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Thursday 19 January 2017

Tony Ward: Gay Byrne ignored the signs, as did I. Don't make the same mistake

Published 22/11/2016 | 02:30

Veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne Picture: Mark Condren
Veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne Picture: Mark Condren

As coincidence would have it I bumped into Gay Byrne in the RTE Radio centre on the Sunday following Ireland's win over the Canadians.

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He was in great form, looked great, sounded great, 100 percent his inimitable Gaybo self. We spoke about Chicago and everything All Black, bar the obvious.

Perhaps I'm being a little flippant in relation to 'the obvious': it is not my intention, but no more than Gay knew that I had been through the prostate experience over the previous five years did I have the slightest inkling that he was most probably in the early stages of hearing of his own engagement now.

He will have a much better idea in the coming days as to the extent of the tumour but he is getting on with life in the only way he knows how. And therein lies the key to unlocking whatever challenges might lie ahead. Positivity is essential not only in the early stages of diagnosis but throughout the treatment to come.

Gay has spoken in the last few days of noticing warning signs (re urinating) for the best part of a year but ignoring them. That's me to a T and just about every member of the male species out there. We are the macho men, the hunters, the gatherers, the ones who put our cars in for regular servicing but ourselves…never.

We don't even talk about our health issues or anything that might be ailing us. It is a cultural deficiency in Irish men. Women talk the talk and walk the walk while we men do neither. I was that hypocrite. To cut a long story very short I was diagnosed in 2011 with an aggressive strain of prostate cancer and had of course ignored the warning signs for the best part of three years assuming that going to the loo much more often was simply part of the ageing process. Ignore it and it'll go away.

In my case the need was immediate as the urologist drew a picture of an orange with juice seeping through the skin. It had extended beyond my prostate but luckily not yet into other organs or my bones. The immediate treatment involved the placing of hormone implants under my skin (in order to kill the male testosterone feeding the tumour), followed by brachytherapy (blowing the tumour into bits) under epidural approximately two months later and then six weeks daily radiation approximately two months after that again.

It was a tough time in my life and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. But from wherever it came, I oozed consistent positivity as this was one match I was sure going to win. Any other result didn't bear thinking about. I was unlucky in that mine was aggressive but even luckier again in that it had not spread too far beyond the walnut gland that is the prostate.

So much depends, of course, on the stage of diagnosis - the earlier the better, with an operation the preferred option, although medical technology is constantly improving.

I am not fully out of the woods, dealing with one or two side effects relating to bone density and testosterone, but I am getting there.

For the best part of two years I kept my illness secret and in-house but over the last three I have become actively involved in many cancer organisations here and north

of the border aimed at getting the message out to men everywhere to get checked.

Far from being a sign of weakness, having the courage to go to your GP about anything untoward is just that - courageous. It is also unselfish for the simple reason you are thinking beyond the privacy and secrecy of self.

Prostate has one of the best survival rates of the very many cancers that threaten our lives. Through his work on TV and radio, Gay Byrne has brought so much pleasure, entertainment and indeed education to generation upon generation. I know I speak for everyone when wishing him and the 3,000-plus who have been diagnosed with cancer of the prostate in this calendar year alone nothing but the very best in the treatment ahead. To anyone out there still unsure as to changes in bodily routine, the message is simple: get checked, and now.

Irish Independent

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