Did you know Breast Cancer Now have a lot in common with Prostate Cancer UK? Breast and prostate cancer are the UK's most common cancers. Every year, we lose 11,500 women and 11,500 men to both diseases.
This World Cancer Day, we’re both sharing Richard and Karen’s story. During their marriage, they’ve both faced cancer. And although their experiences were different, supporting each other through treatment helped get them through it.
Richard: I volunteered after being diagnosed with prostate cancer
I’m 72 years of age, and I’m married to a lovely lady called Karen. We have both been affected by cancer. Karen has had breast cancer twice, and I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010.
I had successful treatment, and I’ve been in remission for the last five or six years.
After my treatment, I started to volunteer for Prostate Cancer UK. I started at football matches doing bucket rattling, then moved on to awareness stands in Tesco and other supermarkets. Three years ago, I was promoted to an awareness speaker for prostate cancer, and I’ve enjoyed that role immensely. It’s connected me to so many people out there.
Unfortunately, with Covid-19, it’s stopped that face-to-face dialogue. I’m waiting to do more online remote talks and for everything to be freed up again.
I felt numb when I heard the news
My initial reaction to my prostate cancer diagnosis was numbness, then a cold realisation. The one thing I do remember was that Karen was with me, and I turned around and said, ‘We’re one-all now.’
I think I just went into ‘automatic’ mode. I took things as they were and went into preparation for my treatment.
I started with hormone treatment. I lost all my body hair, which was quite amusing, and I started having hot flushes. Then the main treatment to rid me of the cancer was radiotherapy, in my case. I had a high dosage implant in my prostate, and then I had 21 courses of radiotherapy.
I tried to carry on as normal
My day-to-day life was changed drastically, but I decided to work through it – basically just to take my mind off the cancer. I had a good employer at the time who understood my predicament. They allowed me to take half days off to go to the hospital for my radiotherapy, and I’m very grateful for that. It made me focus on other things, and that helped me tremendously.
Losing my hair was not really a big deal for me. I understood that my body was changing. I tended to ignore it, fundamentally. I had other good distractions in things like classic cars, which I love.
I think how you react to cancer depends on your state of mind. Everybody is different.
Women seem more likely to talk about cancer than men
I would say there’s a lack of understanding around prostate cancer. I think women talk to one another and are more supportive, especially around breast cancer, whereas men – as I found through my awareness talks – do not want to discuss such matters. This seems especially prevalent in African and Caribbean communities.
I personally had no knowledge of the prostate before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I worked in an environment where there were young people and it was never discussed, it never came up – nobody was ever affected.
In the UK one in eight men, and one in four black men, will get prostate cancer. If you ignore it, it could spread, and that’s when life expectancy deteriorates. If you think you have symptoms, please do not hesitate to contact Prostate Cancer UK or your doctor.
Karen supported me so much
I cannot express my gratitude for the support I got from Karen along my journey with cancer. She had been through cancer treatment herself, and I certainly had a lot of empathy with her when she was diagnosed for a second time. As a couple, that’s what's required: you support one another through traumas.
Since being diagnosed with cancer, my wife and I have really started to live for today. We appreciate life more, we appreciate our families and we have more concern for others. It’s changed my outlook, certainly.
My advice to anyone going through breast cancer or prostate cancer right now is to use the internet to look for support, but never use Doctor Google to diagnose your own symptoms. Talk to the right people – they're out there.
Karen: My diagnosis made me realise how precious life is
Fast-forward to 2018 and, following a routine mammogram, I was diagnosed with a grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma in the same breast. It's a day I'll never forget, as it was the same day that our son was involved in a serious road accident – so two hospitalisations in the same day. It certainly makes you realise how precious life is.
Like Richard, I tried to maintain normality
My initial reaction to receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer was shock more than anything. I thought: 'why me? Am I going to die?' I had a nine-year-old child.
I had a lumpectomy but, following analysis of the tumour, it was found to be larger than they thought – so I had to have further surgery. This was then followed by three weeks of radiotherapy and hormone treatment for five years.
I carried on working as much as I could. I worked through all my radiotherapy sessions, and my company were extremely supportive. For me, personally, I found that working meant that I had some normality, and I didn’t have to think about cancer 24/7.
Having one another was a great source of support
I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years before Richard had prostate cancer, but he supported me. When he was later diagnosed, our treatments differed greatly, but I think – psychologically – going through it together certainly helped both of us.
I noticed the treatment paths and the awareness of prostate and breast cancer are very different. I appreciate that men can get breast cancer as well, but I think there is an awful lot more awareness around it than prostate cancer.
My experience from 2001 to my second experience in 2018 also differed, though. This most recent time around, I found there was a lot more support and awareness.
I really feel for people who don’t have families or partners to support them, especially now with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Support is out there if you need it
I think women facing the fear of losing their breasts is a very emotional thing, and if you can engage with women who have been through a similar situation to yourself, then that’s so helpful.
You don’t have to go far without finding support. I think when you start going on this journey, you have a lot of questions, and – though medical professionals can help – a lot of the time it’s more about psychological support.
This World Cancer Day, we are standing together with Prostate Cancer UK to let you know that we both provide vital support services, that are needed now more than ever. If you have any concerns about breast or prostate cancer and want to talk to someone you can contact the Breast Cancer Now Helpline or the Prostate Cancer UK Helpline for free.