2020 was a horrible year. I know that Covid was a major issue for many people but, surprisingly perhaps, it rated fairly low when it came to my family’s other health issues during that year. One of these issues, and not the greatest, was my Prostate Cancer. I had been diagnosed just the year before when, by luck more than anything, my problems urinating became apparent. I didn’t go to my doctor though as, like most men, I just tried to ignore it. However, I was asked by my neurologist during a routine examination about this and she insisted on reporting it, just in case. While the problem could have been caused by the damage to the nerves in my lower spine (which is also the cause of my chronic pain), my neurologist wanted to rule out Prostate Cancer first. This proved to be a very wise decision and one for which I’m very thankful.
‘A touch of cancer’ is what my urologist told me. I found the very concept of this quite bizarre. I always thought that, once you had even an atom of cancer, it would then spread and rage through your body like a wildfire. However, as my PSA level was not overly high, he said that they would just monitor my cancer for the time being. I also found the concept of walking around with cancer actually in my body while they did nothing quite bizarre. So, I read up on it and I found that Prostate Cancer can lie dormant with some men for many years. In fact, they may live with it and take it with them to the grave without it getting any worse. However, for others the cancer can be very aggressive and it can quickly spread to other parts of the body. Around 12,000 men die from it each year in the UK and and over 33,000 in the USA. That’s a lot of deaths, too many perhaps. Like many cancers it is eminently treatable but the trick is in catching it early.
And so I was monitored and I, of course, was praying that my cancer would stay nicely asleep. It didn’t. My PSA went up and then subsequent biopsies gave me a high Gleason Score. This meant that the prostate had to come out. To be fair I was also given the option of hormone treatment or radiotherapy but I’d boned up on it and I decided that taking the prostate out (a prostatectomy) was the best course for me. I was especially struck by Stephen Fry talking about his prostate operation. I was approaching seventy when this decision was taken but, had I been ten or twenty years younger, I might have reached a different conclusion.
A very weird fact – I included the initial of my middle name in my writer’s name Patrick C. Walsh because both my first name and surname are incredibly common, especially in Ireland. I searched for novelists with that exact name and middle initial and I found none. However, when I later did a search of all authors, the books of Patrick C. Walsh, world famous doctor, leapt out at me. He was (of course) a urologist and had written several books on men’s health. Curiously he had also been responsible for inventing part of the surgical procedure that I was to undergo. I was always reminded about this by every new face I met from the consultant’s team and had to force a smile and laugh at the coincidence. However, one thing was for sure, none of them ever forgot my name!
I had the operation on July 4th which, as Patrick C. Walsh the doctor is American, I found apposite. It had been delayed for over two months by Covid but I’m grateful that I was able to have it at all when such a storm was raging within every hospital. As far as I can tell it went quite well but only time, and more monitoring, will confirm that. Five years more monitoring to be precise which I actually find comforting. If, for some reason, the operation didn’t work then there are always other things they can try.
So why did I give this terrible thing to Tim Teagan? Well, they say that writers should write about what they know and I now know what it’s like to have your prostate removed. As Tim’s a nice character, I thought hard and long about this (and yes, I do think about my characters as being fairly real) but I decided that spreading the word about Prostate Cancer was more important. So, in my latest book, A Concrete Case of Murder, poor Tim is going under the knife and having his prostate removed. Tim’s experience in the book is, of course, pretty much my own experience of the operation. I hope that my male readers will take this on board and think about their prostates and whether they should get tested too. Initially, it’s only a simple blood test but it might just save your life. If you have any inkling that you might have a problem then please click on one of the links below. Don’t ignore it or be scared of it. It’s a cancer that they can really do something about so long as they catch it in time.