I’d tell everyone to take control of their health

This is an edited version of a blog written by David, who has been supported by Martlets Hospice. 

I have advanced metastatic prostate cancer. When I was diagnosed in 2007, tests confirmed the cancer was aggressive, and it was too late for surgery – drugs and radiotherapy were the standard treatment.

I remember little from the meeting with the specialist that first day other than “chemical castration, aggressive cancer and radiotherapy”. The first prognosis, based on similar cases, gave me a couple of years to live, but I’m still here thanks to advances in research, new treatments and luck. Eighteen months ago I was told I had just six months to live, but I have bucked the trend yet again. No-one can tell me how long I have now.

For years, I worked in aviation as a dispatcher. In aviation terms, I am now in the zone, shortly on finals, with no ‘go around’ option. A short taxi and straight into the terminal – an appropriate word that appeals to my dark sense of humour.

No more can be done for me in terms of treatment, only palliative care, but I have an incredible support base – doctors, Macmillan nurses, and Martlets Hospice. I have been lucky to get this far and I know it.

Sea, sky and smilemakers

Most of us are just too busy living our lives every day to step back. Cancer forced me to stop and take a really clear look at my life. I had to make tough choices and decisions and live with the consequences.

I had no choice in getting cancer – the choices came later.

At first, there was the blind anger, fear and ‘why me’ anguish – I felt very alone. I was aggravated by the side effects of treatment and the thought of dying too soon, but gradually I started to think and not just react. Despite the negatives, there were really positive things in my life right in front of my eyes, but I had to learn to focus on them; I was appreciated and valued for looking after the ‘smilemakers’ (my granddaughters), I enjoyed the company of family and friends, and my work became my bedrock in the years to come. I loved my job and dispatched thousands of flights – I still miss the banter and value the catch-ups we have.

My work with my camera has always been a source of pleasure and a way of seeing the world around me, and I have always had an affinity with the sea and the coast, the ever-changing light and tide; I have done my best thinking there and, perhaps, photography. The sound of waves crashing and the changing sky helps to calm and clear the mind. One beach, in particular, is special to me as it has become a focal point for all that is good about being with friends, and enjoying food, sunshine and laughter.

A rollercoaster ride

I soon learned that life’s rollercoaster will not give you an easy ride just because you have cancer or any other serious health issue. The choice early on was to control what was is in my power and ignore what was not.

With cancer, everyone finds their own way, there’s no right or wrong. At first, it seemed it would consume me every day, draining my positivity and energy. My reserves were so low then, but I don’t do regrets now. Time is too precious to waste. The past cannot be undone, but it is possible to learn from it.

I made a personal choice over time to go on my own to medical appointments and to radiotherapy and chemo sessions. I had offers of help, but this was something I was not comfortable sharing with people I cared for and who cared for me. I was single and in a way happy with that, though there were times when a cuddle in the middle of the night would have allowed me to take off the mask that hides my innermost fears.

Now and again, I do wake at night with emotions near the surface. I just cry. Not tears of impending doom or sobbing my heart out, just a release. I feel better for it. So, a solitary journey by choice in some ways, but never a lonely one.

Part of my choice on this journey was to be open about cancer. The hardest part has always been the telling of bad news to those you love and care for, but I wanted to make sure my family and friends would always know the current situation. That’s when my mask can drop, as emotion rises to the surface. The look on the face as they listen to your words, I never could get used to that.

Early on, I got to know five guys – the ‘Gang of Five’ – on a self-help forum. We all had the same prognosis and stage of cancer. They have all gone now, the last some five years ago so I know I have been lucky. They were strong and all had different strategies that worked for them. I miss those guys still, and what we shared.

Take control of your health

If you’re a man in your forties or beyond, my story may help. Take control of your health and get your symptoms checked by your GP as early as you can.

There’s loads of reliable information out there about prostate cancer on UK websites – use it. There is a growing momentum in awareness and research – so many more treatments are now available. And remember, prostate, erectile or urinary problems do not necessarily mean cancer, but it’s better to know early either way.

Take a look at how women are dealing with breast cancer. Huge strides are being made because they have the right attitude to getting advice, treatment and publicity.

Be honest with yourself. Make that appointment and remove doubt. Don’t let being macho get in the way. If just one man reads this and takes action then any of my doubts about posting this blog will disappear.