"You have prostate cancer" – four words that will change your life. Many men tell us about the shock, numbness, and disbelief after being given their diagnosis. Rod Coverly, 60, originally from South Africa and now living in Dorset, heard these words in July 2014. He tells us of the suicidal thoughts that went through his mind immediately afterwards, and how our booklet helped him to see light at the end of the tunnel.

14 Sep 2015

Rod Coverley

When I was told I had prostate cancer, I was dumbfounded. It didn’t sink in. Up to that point there’d been no mention of prostate cancer. I didn’t think it could happen to me.

I’d noticed I’d had peeing problems for a while. I remember going to a restaurant with friends, visiting the toilet and just splashing. It was embarrassing. I had an MRI and a biopsy, and then I got a letter to see my consultant.

I’d gone to the appointment on my own. My wife had said, "Do you want me to come with you?’ and I said, "No, nothing will happen, it’s just a formality. I’ll come home and cook dinner. You go out and meet your friend."

When the consultant broke the news my world fell apart.

The longest journey home

The first thing I asked was, "What are my options?" I wanted it out; it’s my body. But because of my emphysema, I was told they couldn’t. The nurse gave me a Prostate Cancer UK booklet and off I went.

I had to catch two buses home. It seemed like it was the longest journey I have ever had to take. I was alone and terrified. My father had died from prostate cancer in 1997 aged 69 and his two brothers had died from it too, one as recent as this year. So I wasn’t giving myself much chance.

There was just so much going on in my mind. What was I going to tell my wife, Sandy, and the rest of my family? What about the granddaughter I haven’t even met yet? My mother is not too well herself and I had my three daughters to tell, with one of them in rehab for taking drugs (I had just been through the trauma of saving her life). I just felt useless. The whole way home I thought about the tablets I had at home for getting to sleep at night. I reckoned I had about 250. I thought, if three can put me to sleep what can 250 do? I was seriously thinking about it.

I’d never thought about committing suicide. I was a confident, strong, successful person.

I got home, opened a can of beer and found the tablets. I was going to take them but my wife’s face kept flashing in my mind. She didn’t know anything. Do I do it or do I not? It was the strangest feeling. I’d never thought about committing suicide. I was a confident, strong, successful person. I’d had a great career as a chef, both here and in South Africa. But I felt like I couldn’t do anything, like someone was taking my life away from me.

Relief to discover I was not alone

I put the tablets by the beer and decided to read the booklet the nurse gave me. I saw the Prostate Cancer UK website on the back and I went there and started reading. As I read through all the information, the thoughts of me taking my own life went away because I found I was not alone. I had options for my treatment and a support group waiting for my call. It was just a great relief.

I didn’t want to be a burden on Sandy. But now I knew she would have support if she wanted it too. So I waited for her to get home to see how we could get through it.
When she did, I just blurted it out and we stood there hugging for I don’t know how long. We didn’t say anything, absolutely nothing. We hugged and we cried.

When I went to bed I still felt so scared – those thoughts just don’t go away. I carried on reading the booklet and going on the website and felt more confident about what was going on. Now I knew there was someone there that I could speak to: Prostate Cancer UK’s Specialist Nurses. When I phoned the hospital I knew what to ask and knew about my rights. Before this, I barely even knew what a prostate was.

I also learnt about the increased risk because of family history; before I just put it down to coincidence. My mother also had both of her breasts removed, my father’s sister died of breast cancer and my mother’s sister had a double mastectomy, too. So there’s a history of cancer on both sides.

Armed with information for treatment

Once I was armed with information, I pushed for surgery and I eventually had my prostate removed in January 2015. Now I’ve got my whole life back and my latest PSA came back as 0.01. OK, I’ve got incontinence, which I battle with, and I can’t get an erection (my penis has decided to hide away!). But as I said to my wife at the time, if you want to have children now you’ll have to adopt! At 65, she turned to me and laughed.

It was a long and hard road and those negative thoughts stayed with me for a long time. But I still have my life and my wife. I’m active and I’m fine.

If I didn’t have that booklet or know there was a Specialist Nurse at the end of the line, I dread to think what would have happened that first day.

I’m telling you all this because I want to be as honest as possible – there’s no point hiding facts. I want to be full on because I think it's important people are made aware of what it’s like.

When I look back on the first 24 hours, I do feel really silly but it was important. It was a life-changing day. Maybe I became humble? Before then, I didn’t notice other people’s problems as much as I should have. I was confident it was never going to happen to me. But I guess we all think that.

That’s why I decided to volunteer for Prostate Cancer UK. Prostate Cancer UK saved my life so I want to help others, like me, who think it won’t ever happen to them. If I didn’t have that booklet or know there was a Specialist Nurse at the end of the line, I dread to think what would have happened that first day.  

All I can do is raise awareness, share my story and tell people to get in touch with Prostate Cancer UK or go to their doctor. And I know a few people have because my doctor told me at our last appointment! It makes me feel good when I help other people. And if my story can help make people aware, it would make me the happiest man in the world.

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