Tuesday 12 December 2017

Tony Ward on prostate cancer: 'I was lucky, I got there in time. Get smart, get checked'

Former rugby player Tony Ward thought he was too 'macho' and 'indestructible' to get cancer. Three years on from his 'aggressive' prostate cancer diagnosis, he's urging men everywhere to get checked

Talking the talk: Tony Ward has an important message for men everywhere. Photo: El Keegan
Talking the talk: Tony Ward has an important message for men everywhere. Photo: El Keegan
Tony Ward in action for Ireland

Three years and a bit on, not fully out of the woods, but feeling good. Pushed to articulate just how it feels on the back of a 'C' experience, and while I'm no oncologist or medical expert in any relevant field, the omens are good.

In early 2012 I was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of prostate cancer. Advanced in so far as it had extended beyond the prostate and, much like orange juice seeping through its skin, had taken me beyond the option of a straight forward operation. Removing the tumour in one cut (so to speak) would be the preferred course of action. Instead mine was a three-stage process.

Once the biopsy had confirmed the suspicions of GP Ray Power, consultant urologist Hubert Galagher and consultant radiation oncologist Alina Mihai we were up and running.

The implementation of hormone implants under the skin of my arm (to kill testosterone which feeds the tumour) was followed by Brachytherapy in the Mater and topped off by a five-week course in daily radiation at the Beacon.

Read more: Rugby star Tony Ward on Prostate Cancer: "It seemed like nothing sinister and I did nothing about it. That's typical of men."

I was lucky, in so far as it hadn't gone too far, but let there be no ambiguity here it was no thanks to me.

Tony Ward in action for Ireland
Tony Ward in action for Ireland

If I'm honest I will confess to having suspicions that something wasn't quite right with the waterworks for the best part of three, maybe even four, years before.

Did I do anything about it? No. Sure I'm a macho, rugby-playing indestructible male.

Unfortunately I am far from alone in that warped way of thinking. As a gender we are individually and collectively still in need of that wake-up call when it comes to our health. Whereas men talk the talk, it's women who walk the walk.

Very quickly the signs of something sinister going on surrounded a tendency to find myself seeking out a public convenience whenever in town on a mission, shopping or whatever.

That and increasing visits to the loo during the night should have had alarm bells ringing. Whatever about the former, the latter I put down to either the natural ageing process, or else an over-consumption of liquid (not alcohol I might add) just ahead of bedtime.

Beyond that? Hey I'm the hunter/gatherer. As for visiting the doctor? Yeah, yeah next month.

Well in the fast lane that is modern-day life, days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into years and in the blink of an eye our bodies are out-passing our minds.

God, if only the body operated parallel with the mind I'd be competing with Johnny Sexton, Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan for a place on that World Cup flight to Cardiff and London.

Unfortunately it doesn't work like that. Common sense demands that as we get older we must demand more of ourselves in terms of tender loving care. The type of TLC I am talking about comes not from others, but from within. From ourselves as men by way of getting checked.

I am now involved in some six different cancer organisations - the Irish Cancer Society, Arc Cancer Support group, the Marie Keating Foundation, Movember Foundation Ireland, the Mater Hospital Foundation, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland - as well as sitting on the board of the Heartbeat Trust which supports services and research at the St Vincent's University Hospital Chronic Cardiovascular Disease Unit.

Quite apart from contributing in practical terms the overall objective is to get the message out there to men everywhere; get checked.

Read more: Testicular cancer survivor: 'I came close to losing my life twice so I value every single day'

For Men's Health Week 2015 coinciding with and finishing on Father's Day in mid-June, I worked as the 'face' of Mens Health Forum Ireland (MHFI) a cross-border initiative jointly funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic and the Public Health Agency (PHA) in the North specifically aimed at creating a culture change in relation to men's health.

The theme was simple and self explanatory: 'Creating Culture Change - it's time for a new script'.

I make no apologies for highlighting that message again now or in repeating it ad nauseam. We are all products of our upbringing but times change and so too must attitudes.

I was lucky, I did get there in time, but I could have made it so much easier for everyone involved... not least myself.

Speaking of times past, those of a similar vintage will remember a smash hit TV comedy series from the 60s called Get Smart. It starred Don Adams as bumbling Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 for Control. Max (Agent 86) along with Barbara Feldon (Agent 99) battled the forces of KAOS.

I cannot think of a more appropriate metaphor. Get Smart, Get Checked.

Irish Independent

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