Why I won't let cancer beat me
When John B Keane died from prostate cancer last month, SEAN McCANN was in shock after being diagnosed with the disease. Now he's living life to the full.
The trouble about disease and life is that just as soon as you begin to think you're invulnerable, along comes something that puts you back firmly in your place. One day, at the end of last month, my belief that I would live forever was shaken. The message was that am I suffering from prostate cancer. It wasn't an easy message to take for me or my family.
Just as I was beginning to get over the shock, the news of the passing of John B Keane, from the same disease, was announced. That's the sort of news that pulls you up quicker than ABS brakes. All those things you have been procrastinating about suddenly crowd in on you.
I am of the age where cancer becomes one of the problems that is likely to be troublesome. It rarely occurs in men under 60. It is when you hit the 70 mark that the whole scenario comes much more into focus. Now, if I could have been 96, it would hardly be a problem at all at that age many men don't die from the disease but die with it.
It isn't much help to know that prostate cancer is one of the most curable of all cancers. It seems that everywhere I turn people are talking about the disease. Bela Doyle, Jimmy Bartley's character in Fair City, has it, and his recovery will no doubt be followed by the programme. It seems everyone knows someone who has had it.
The latest statistics available from the National Cancer Registry, which cover 1994-8, show that the most dramatic figures were for men in their 80s: in 125 of the 174 reported cases, they died from the disease. In the 70-plus age group, 511 cases were reported, resulting in 211 deaths. In all ages in this period, some 1,150 cases were reported.
Now that I am in my 70s I belong to a dangerous age. Not that it really matters what age you are when you get the diagnosis: the shock of knowing you have cancer sets you back on your heels. Someone asked me if it was a bolt from the blue you had better believe it.
But I have always been lucky, and this time I was lucky too. The indications are that it has been caught "in time"; doctors say that if this cancer is detected early, the treatment can be very successful.
Since I got my diagnosis I have met many men who have been effectively treated. One friend completed his year-long treatment the week I started mine and he is a very happy man. And for me the prognosis is not too bad. The doctor told me that with luck I would be visiting him when I hit 80 which gives me a few more years to stop and smell the roses.
But emotionally, while this was the biggest shock of my life, it hit my family even harder. They were mesmerised. It is tough for the person diagnosed with cancer; it must be much harder to assimilate the facts when someone close to you is affected.
As soon as I got the diagnosis I decided that I wouldn't have any problems with people knowing my difficulty. Indeed, I think if we all talked more openly about cancer and its terrors, some of the shock might be washed away from it.
I was shattered at first, but I got so much wonderful support from people that I realised I wasn't sick far from it. I have a nasty bug somewhere inside me, and I have given him it must be a male, because it lives on testosterone an eviction order. With it goes a message: "Go in peace or be zapped."
If you ever worry about the possibility of prostate cancer or any other cancer for that matter there is no need to sit and agonise. There is a whole world of help waiting out there. I never realised I could find out as much about anything as dangerous as this disease in such a short time. If you have a computer you can find a mountain of material that gives you details of the risk factors, diagnostic procedures and treatments. There is no need to be in the dark everything is available there to help you make an informed decision for the present and the future. And if you don't have access to a computer you can make a free phone call to the Irish Cancer Society (1800-200700).
Researchers are looking at new ways of detecting and treating this cancer, and the outlook for those with the disease is improving steadily. If, for example, you take two "servings" of tomato ketchup every day you lower the chances of becoming a cancer victim but what two servings is, I still don't know. When I asked my doctor about this, he said that now I have the problem even tomato ketchup by the bottle won't help!
New tests are constantly being done in the hope of finding a real cure. Laboratory tests in the US last month showed that when curcuma the turmeric plant and the compound that gives the spice its yellow colour was teamed up with a natural immune-system protein, 80pc of the cancerous cells committed hara-kiri!
Although not being a great one for Asian food, I went to the supermarket and bought a pack of the spice. I will try anything that might be helpful after all, Indian men have a very low incidence of prostate trouble. This could well be due to their high intake of turmeric, used extensively in cooking in many Asian countries.
But the best way to keep disease at bay is to know about it to understand its functions, its ways and its remedies. Few men ever bother to find out what the prostate is until, like me, they have problems with it.
It is, in fact, part of the male reproductive system. It sits under the bladder and surrounds the urethra, through which urine passes; it lies close to the front of the back passage, through which it can be closely felt and its size estimated. A simple examination, as well as a blood test, will give an indication of the state of the gland.
The cause of most prostate cancers is unknown. Some may be inherited if a relative had the cancer the chances of developing the disease may be increased. Age also increases the possibility of it being present in the body.
Symptoms include the need to pass urine frequently during the night; there can also be pain, burning and difficulty in starting urination, stopping urination or both. Other symptoms that give warning signs include the feeling that your bladder has not completely emptied, passing blood in your urine, losing weight for no apparent reason and having frequent pain in your lower back.
But don't despair even these indications do not mean cancer is present. There is a condition that often affects the prostate, benign prostatic hypertrophy, and it is not cancer. It still means you should take medical advice better the devil you know.
There are three main types of treatment for prostate cancer: surgery, radiation and hormone therapy.
My medicine is hormonal and, while I know it's still very early days, I am still singing a happy tune, devouring chocolate, drinking good wine and being cosseted by good friends and the roses are starting to come into bloom. These are solid grounds for anyone in difficulty.
* Understanding Prostate Cancer, a free booklet, is available from the Irish Cancer Society (01-6681855, www.cancer.ie), 5 Northumberland Road, D4. Its helpline is at 1800-200700
How you can avoid problems
To prevent prostate troubles and to help patients during recovery:
* Maintain a whole food diet (this includes nuts, seeds, raw vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, dried beans, peas and brown rice). Use cold pressed oils such as olive oil or sesame seed oil in cooking. Avoid too much fat in the diet and large amounts of coffee, strong tea, alcohol or smoking.
* Supplements of certain vitamins and minerals will assist prevention and recovery. Zinc is one of the most vital supplements. Because of changing farming methods it's difficult to get enough zinc in normal food intake so taking some in tablet form may be necessary. Other supplements include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Beta Carotene, Vitamin B complex, Selenium.
* Increase your fluid intake. Drink as much water as possible (up to three quarts daily), to stimulate urine flow, during the day.
* Exercise is very important. Walking is the best method bike riding is not advised.
* Relaxation is high on the list of therapies. Don't allow your spirit to be crushed. Your mind and your attitude are vital to recovery. Be creative where you can; take some time for meditation and to reflect on the wonders of life. Now is the time to do those things you have always wanted to do.