'You can either consider yourself to be dying of cancer, or living with cancer. I'm living with cancer'
Published 17/09/2015 | 02:30
Professor John Monaghan (71) was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011. He still has cancer, "but they are cancer cells rather than tumours".
"I started to take flying lessons back in 2010 when I was 66. Every year you have to go for a medical, so in March 2011 I went for the flight medical to be told that my PSA [prostate-specific antigen] had been considerably elevated from results I had about four months earlier.
"In June 2011, I went to see a consultant. Biopsies were done in June and it was confirmed that I had prostate cancer. The feeling was that it was pretty severe, but that it was contained within the prostate gland and the recommendation was surgery.
"I had robotic surgery for the removal of the prostate, and it went really well. I was out of hospital within three days. The difficulty was, by the time they had opened me up to take out the prostate, they discovered that the cancer was more severe than they anticipated.
"Unfortunately, because of trying to clear away that size of tumour and the surrounding area, I was left incontinent.
"Nonetheless, I was out of hospital within three days. The surgery was in August 2011, and by September I was teaching, and by the middle of October I was flying again.
"It was soon obvious that they needed more surgery to correct the incontinence, and secondly, the cancer started to come back. They had to monitor the cell activity throughout the remaining months of 2012, and in October I had more surgery for the fitting of an artificial male sphincter, which controls the incontinence.
"In the early part of 2013 around April it was decided I needed what they call salvage radio therapy so, I started seven weeks of external electron beam radiotherapy. It's like a shotgun. They're trying to kill off cells in the area where the prostate was. And that was fine.
"I mean, I coped with the radiotherapy fairly well. Unfortunately, the artificial male sphincter device started to malfunction, so I was back incontinent again.
"That happened in the summer of 2013. Again, it was obvious that the PSA was starting to rise again.
"Issues that had to be addressed: the defective sphincter, which needed more surgery, and then watching the PSA. That got us to the middle of 2014 when I started on hormone therapy.
"These are injections that I take every three months to start the production of testosterone because it acts as a fuel for cancer cells. And that's been working very effectively. There was a bit of a scare when I picked up pneumonia on a flight to Australia and it seems to upset things, and the cells seemed not to be reacting to the injections but that has calmed down now and I'm on hormone therapy; I'm continuing to do all the things I've done.
"The cancer didn't stop me doing anything at any time: I continued working, I continued driving, continued flying, continued my involvement with the Society of St Vincent de Paul, where I was national vice president up to recently, continued to do a bit of wood-turning down in the shed.
"I didn't have any symptoms whatsoever. I had no pain, I wasn't finding it difficult to pass urine, so there were no effects whatsoever. Indeed were it not for the fact that I was taking flying lessons, I probably would be dead by now.
"My attitude in all of this is, you can either consider yourself to be dying of cancer, or living with cancer. And my attitude from the very beginning was, okay, I am living with cancer.
"I have cancer now, but I'm living with it. I wasn't going to just curl up in a ball and die."