The guy that I spoke to during the church breakfast, last month, had still been on my mind. When I texted him a week later, I was expecting him to say he was still going to do it. I had already decided that I was not going to chase him on this. I had spoken to him at length on the day and I had spoken to his wife. Short of kidnapping him and drawing blood there was nothing more I could do. Instead, he shocked me by saying he had indeed gone to his doctors and had the test. He was just waiting for the result. A week later he got it. It was 1.68. From what I know, for his age the threshold would be 3. So, while he is under the threshold now, hopefully he will take responsibility for keeping on top of it going forward.
I was asked by Prostate Cancer UK if I would be up for talking to a group of their new starters. I didn’t need to be asked twice and a few weeks later I joined them all on a zoom call. It was somewhere in the presentation, where they were detailing all the services they offer, that something caught my eye. They offer one to one discussion between their volunteers, with the prerequisite that they have undergone one of the prostate cancer treatments, men who have just been diagnosed or their partners. It is something I have always enjoyed doing for friends that have a friend or relation that has recently received the devastating news that they require treatment.
I would say that maybe 30% of these requests, actually lead to an actual talk. The last one was a good friend whose brother had been diagnosed. He had been given my number and kept promising her that he would call. She called me frustrated and asked me if I would call him. I replied I would only do that if she asked him if it was OK. A few days later she confirmed he said it was OK. A few days later I called him.
“H, is this Paul?”
“Yes, it is. Who is this?”
“My name is Peter, Susan’s friend. She said it was OK to call you to talk about your recent diagnosis.”
[Insert pause here: Frogs croaking in the background, distant sounds of grim reapers scythe gently scraping on the concrete floor, blood slowly draining from black man’s face]
“Yeah, yeah. I can’t talk right now. Can I call you back?”, he stuttered.
“Course, no problem at all. Talk to you later” I concluded.
I would describe his tone, in the first call, as one where he had been completely blind-sighted or I was a bailiff in his house, rolling a splif, calling him at work. That was the only time, I can readily think of, where that happened. I thought I’d never hear from him again but a few days later he called me back, accidently, as he didn’t recognise the number. Once I reminded him who I was, he quickly said he would be calling back, just before the rush of blood out of his head rendered him completely paralysed. His sister would inform me later that he has not mentioned anything about his condition since. It would be great to talk to men or women who will appreciate an honest discussion. I would not be painting a butterflies and light walk in the summer flower beds type of experience, which I had received. Just being honest.
A week or two later I had an informal chat with someone from prostate cancer UK recruitment. I answered a few questions and they said they train people in batches and that the current allocation had been done so I would hear from them again in three or four months time. OK, not a problem, see you then. Job well done. As I was at work, I went to get a beverage from the kitchen. In the time between putting my phone down on my table and coming back I had received a missed call. It was the recruiter. I called back.
“Hi Peter, sorry for disturbing you but I had a word with my manager and you fill an age and operation demographic where we are short. No pressure, but could you do an interview next week?”
Interview comes around a week or so later. They didn’t realise that I had already been volunteering with them for nearly 5 years so that took a bit of wind out of their questioning. When it came to me I did have a couple.
“Would I be talking to guys who wanted an opinion on what to do or have they already made up their mind?”
I was adamant that I would never advise a guy on the treatment to take, that would solely be their decision. Thankfully they were of the same opinion. The other question, I asked, was when did I start 😊 I am now enrolled on the next training course in a couple of weeks time.
To say the oncology department of guys hospital was heaving was an understatement. They must have emptied all the old peoples houses of men within a hundred mile radius and dumped them all in this department. I got there with a good thirty minutes to spare and managed to squeeze a seat between a couple and an old boy. I came armed with the days crossword and hunkered down. It’s also fair to say that I was a bit cranky. It was something about the coughing though that got me really riled up though. It’s something about the deep, feral, dry coughing that only old men have perfected that did it. I couldn’t move seats from the nearby perpetrators so somehow falling back into my jacket would have to do.
I was confident this time around. I had dreamed of a whopping 4 point drop but I would be happy with a 2 pointer. I had no injuries this time around in the gym and had diligently kept to my three times a week schedule and had worked hard. I saw my radiotherapy doctor prowl up and down a couple of times and we exchanged an acknowledgement but not a greeting as such. Eventually about ten minutes after my appointment time he called out my name.
Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Castello, Morecombe and Wise, left boob and right boob are brilliant examples of double acts in our time. However, I have not had the greatest experiences when it comes to doctor double acts and there were two of them, sitting in the office.
Ask any parent with small children and they will probably agree that if a child’s balloon is going to get popped it’s properly better that it’s done at the start of the party before the child gets attached and gives the silly thing a name.
0.17 was my last PSA reading, a repeat of the 0.17 reading before that. The new reading was 0.19. I had danced hard, franticly and with sweaty gusto with the PSA. The game was up, the party was over and the DJ was packing away his equipment. Whatever was left of my prostate had finally and defiantly stuck 2 wiggling, microscopic fingers up at me.
The chase was over.
The dung beetle can make a juicy morsel from elephant dung, a small bird may catch an unwitting, visiting bug that has let his guard down and if you burn the stuff, it will even repel mosquitos. The only thing I could take from this fresh steamy pile is that my attempt to reverse the PSA meant that there was now no point in having hormone treatment. I had dodged the worse of the long list of side effects and I wouldn’t be changing my name to Petra and buying any man bras anytime soon.
Jokes aside, the potential shopping list of side effects for hormone therapy reads as follows: hot flushes, extreme tiredness, low libido, king shrinkage, impotence, weight gain, strength and muscle loss, memory loss, concentration or focus problems, breast swelling, body hair loss, bone thinning and mood changes. Think chemical castration or male to female transitioning and you are in the same family of medication. It’s sobering to think that my efforts to lower the PSA may have only slowed it down but more importantly prevented me from having to undergo hormone therapy.
For want of a better word, there was more ‘good’ news to be had. Since the radiotherapy was first mentioned to me, late last year, the standard course had been changed from 5 days a week for 6 weeks to 5 times a week for 4 weeks. He then went through the procedure and the list of possible side effects,
There was a list of drinks that I should not drink as they are likely to irritate the urethra.
Urinary urgency, where there is a sudden need to use the toilet.
Burning feeling when peeing.
Blood in stools or urine.
Tiredness and fatigue.
Skin irritation and hair loss.
Increased chance of bladder or bowel cancer.
There is a 2% chance of impotency.
The final icing on the cake was that these problems could start immediately or midway through the treatment. Some could even occur months or even many years after the treatment. Before I left the office the final part was to talk about the when. He gave me his initial start date and I did a simple calculation in my head.
“It would be nice if this silly thing didn’t ruin another birthday” I laughed. He smiled and said of course, we could look at mid to end of May instead. He handed me a plastic folder with a booklet and some additional information. I still needed to see one of the specialist nurses about the next steps. It took a little while to be seen by her and in the end all she told me was that the booklet that was in my package was my bible and it would cover the time before, during and after the course of radiation. While I was waiting, I was actually smiling to myself that I had dodged the hormone bullet. I had to find something good in this. By the time I got home though the smile had disappeared and the posters and balloons for the pity party for one had been rolled out. Of course, there is no party without food, so the careful eating, gym and running didn’t just go out of the window they were chucked out with a swift clip around the ear. Hello to cake, chocolate and my trusty Malibu and diet coke. Surprisingly, ice cream didn’t figure in the equation. Haagen Dias shares continue to be down as a result.
By the weekend the party had died down, the balloons had popped or deflated, the music had stopped and the DJ had packed up and gone home. I had to get back on the wagon. I went for my first 5am run since the radiation news. It felt good having the running shoes back on. The headphones were in place and the music had been selected. There was a light breeze blowing but it was not chilly, this was a good day for a run.
Hands up please if you have been chased by a 5 foot four, drunkard with dreadlocks. No takers huh?
I can complete my 7km run in 34 minutes. I am told that’s a fast pace. I was making good progress as I reached the 4km mark. Now what could that be not two hundred feet in front of me. It would appear to be someone on a traffic island in the middle of the road shouting and gesturing at passing traffic. He wasn’t steady on his feet, so he was drunk at the very least. Pulling up my sweaty invisibility cloak, I decided that I could sneak by him as he was otherwise preoccupied.
Hmm, couldn’t get that wrong could I.
He saw me and immediately called out. “Brov, brov”
I ignored him and continued to run. What is the most sensible thing that came into his head? Let me take after the runner. I tried to add a temporary spur to my run but it wasn’t happening for long. He was gaining rapidly. Once he was about 5 feet away, I stopped and let him have it.
“Just leave me along. I’m just here doing my run. Seriously, just go away!” He was trying to talk but I wasn’t having it. I started to run again. Across the road an Uber driver, that had seen and heard the commotion, had stopped in the middle of the road. Thank you Uber driver, I got this. I think.
The 5 foot 4 drunkard with dreads, decided I was worth chasing again. I maybe got 100 yards before he was in my personal space again.
“Look what’s your problem its 5am and I just doing my run. Just leave me alone. I don’t carry anything on me.” That was a little lie, I had my fox repellent juice in one pocket and a bag of nuts and bolts in the other that would send a metal detector into a frenzy.
I took off again, he wasn’t following me.
This time he had given me about a minutes head start before he took off again after me. With the earlier attempt at escape, I didn’t have anything left in the tank. He took after me again. It was like I was running in slow motion or even in reverse. He was catching up with me again, as he adjusted his manbag. I gave up trying to outrun him.
“Why do you keep chasing me? I am just out for a run. I don’t have anything to give you. I just need you to leave me alone.”
“Which way is North?” He slurred.
“I have no idea”, I spat back at him.
“Where can I get any transport?”
“If you go straight down there, down to a large crossroads you can catch a bus.”
“How far away is it? How long will it take me to get there?”
“15 maybe 20 minutes” I spat back at him again. I had an attitude, too right I did.
“Look, I have money. I am just trying to get North” He said, rattling his man bag.
“I don’t care. How do you think I feel being chased by you, when all I am doing is trying to have my run”
With that I just walked off. Run ruined and now wet and feeling the cold. He was watching me but he didn’t follow me again.
Little did I know that this was going to be the ‘mic drop’ of all runs. I had graduated from the humble fox.