Prostate cancer remains the most common cancer in men across the United Kingdom, with nearly 50,000 new cases every year. And with the additional pressures on the NHS due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more and more men are missing vital routine checkups, delayed referrals and treatments. Statistics from Prostate Cancer UK have already found that the pandemic has led to nearly 52,000 fewer urgent prostate cancer referrals in England alone.
But for Raymond Kirkham, an 80-year-old retired fabrication engineer, getting himself checked was the most important thing he’s ever done. The Yorkshire-born gentleman, who has both a daughter and son, moved to Scotland in 2003 with his wife and lived a normal life with no family history of prostate cancer.
After experiencing a period of three urinary tract infections (UTI), Raymond decided to go to his local GP in Dumfries and Galloway to get checked back in 2008. The thought never crossed Raymond’s mind that his infections could be the sign of anything cancerous. However, his consultant, Mr Shearer, advised that Raymond undertook some more investigations, starting with a PSA test.
“I took my first PSA test back in 2008, and the level was 5ng/ml, which is higher than average, but not of concern at this point. My consultant advised me to continue checking my PSA levels every three months over a year, but by the start of 2009, it had reached 9ng/ml, and then a biopsy was suggested.”
The biopsy identified a small amount of prostate cancer, under 5%, which was sent to Edinburgh Western General to be confirmed. Now that the cancer had been identified, Raymond was given four options for treatment; radiotherapy, keyhole surgery, monitoring the prostate cancer, and brachytherapy.
“I had already seen a programme on Yorkshire Television based in St James’ in Leeds which followed the journey of a few men having brachytherapy. They had all been in the hospital that morning for their operation, and by dinner, they had all gone home. I remember thinking to myself, if I do get prostate cancer and there’s a chance of having this treatment, I’m certainly going to have it.“
Raymond discussed his treatment options with a range of consultants at Edinburgh Western General, but Mr Duncan Mclaren became Raymond’s main consultant, who he discussed the brachytherapy pathway with: “I had only vaguely taken the time to do some additional research about my options because I was set on brachytherapy. Mr Mclaren certainly knows what he is talking about, and I had concerns about the other treatments, such as radiotherapy.”
Raymond’s LDR brachytherapy treatment took place on the 10th July 2009, in which he experienced ‘no problems.’
“I went in on Friday morning, and the operation was done during the day, so I stayed overnight, but by Saturday morning, I was on my way home. I had no pain from anywhere, it was as if I had gone to sleep one night and woke up the next morning fine. I then had no trouble at all during my recovery process after the treatment, and carried on as if nothing had happened.”
The only side effect Raymond experienced from the treatment was the passing of urine, which he explains that they warned him about: “They told me about potential issues with going to the toilet, but they give you some treatment for this which you take over a period of time, and then it all works out okay. And I’m only now experiencing a loss of libido at 80 years of age, so I take that as part of getting older”
After the brachytherapy, Raymond returned to Edinburgh for a consultation and continued to check his PSA levels every three months for a short amount of time: “Since my treatment, my PSA level has never been above 0.5ng/ml, and I now only need to check it once a year.”
Now, over a decade later, Raymond remains in full health and continues his life as he did before his prostate cancer diagnosis: “Everything is just the same as I would have expected it to be before. It’s been over 10 years since my diagnosis and treatment, and I haven’t had any real side effects or changes. I’ve not had a single urine infection since then.”
Now, especially during challenging times where health should remain a priority, but resources are stretched with COVID-19, Raymond emphasises the importance of men talking openly about their health, and debunking prostate cancer myths.
“Men don’t speak about these things. And if they are diagnosed with prostate cancer, some men are the type that would rather go down the route of monitoring the cancer, rather than getting something done about it straight away. Having prostate cancer didn’t affect me mentally, because I thought, now that somebody knows about it, I can get something done. It’s really important for people to act upon it, and get themselves checked now through a regular PSA test.”
Raymond now continues to encourage his son, brother, and other men to get checked, regardless of whether they have any symptoms or not: “As soon as I told my brother about my prostate cancer diagnosis, he was at the doctor’s the next day to see if he could get checked himself. Any men that have signs of a urine infection, I would certainly tell them to get checked to make sure, as if I hadn’t had the infections, I wouldn’t have had anything done about it.”
He also recognises the importance for men to educate themselves on their treatment options, and for brachytherapy to be available more widely: “There are restrictions to brachytherapy, you can’t have it done if the prostate is above a certain size, or if there are any other personal limitations – it can’t be offered to everyone. But if you are offered it as an option, you should most definitely go for it, I’m now over 10 years later from having it and I’m just like I was before.”