By Owen Sharp, Chief Executive Prostate Cancer UK
I was fresh out of college and working as a young trainee nurse in one of Glasgow’s inner city hospitals when I first encountered the devastating effect of prostate cancer. On a night shift, on an all-male ward I met a man called Danny and his experience of this vile disease changed me forever. It wasn’t his symptoms, the side-effects he was experiencing or even the fact that he was gravely ill that hit home. It was the fear in his eyes and the overpowering sense that this strong, proud man was now part of a system that didn’t care for him. That seeming indifference towards Danny, the equivalent of shrugged shoulders and a “Well, what can you do?” made me very, very angry.
That anger has stayed with me throughout my career – on the wards, in the A&E departments and sitting in the boardrooms of the NHS – and now as Chief Executive of Prostate Cancer UK I am in the position to fight back. Believe me when I say there is no time to lose.
This is where we stand. We have a test that divides medical opinion and isn’t fit for purpose. Treatment options that leave men impotent, incontinent and alone. A gland that can be as vicious as it is silent and although awareness levels have risen, it is still woefully misunderstood. This, in a nutshell, is prostate cancer in the UK.
Some people say prostate cancer only kills old men. Let’s put aside that this accusation and excuse – for this is what it is, an excuse – is misleading, ill-informed and inaccurate, and think about exactly what these people are saying: it doesn’t matter that men are dying, they’re old. We may live in an ever-changing landscape of advancing technology and scientific endeavour but this thinking drags us straight back into the Stone Age.
10,000 men of all ages are killed by prostate cancer each year in the UK. 40,000 new cases are diagnosed every 12 months and 250,000 men are currently living with the disease. For some, these are meaningless figures, just more statistics on one of many billboards passed on the way into work. But when just one of these thousands of men becomes your grandfather, your father or even your son, the current lack of knowledge, therapeutic limitations of treatment and seeming indifference levelled at this disease will hit you like a sledgehammer. With 1 in 9 men developing prostate cancer in their lifetime, this is not an unlikely scenario. Now is the time for us all to hit back.
Prostate Cancer UK has launched the MANifesto: a call to arms bringing people together to support men, find answers and lead change. Thanks to Movember we will be spending £25 million over the next three years on research to better predict risk, detect aggressive disease, and treat advanced prostate cancer more effectively. But we need to go further than this and will need your help and support. We need to fight prostate cancer on all fronts: in parliament, in the laboratory, in the pubs and in the minds and attitudes of men across the UK. These are our beaches, our landing grounds, our fields and our streets, and this is a fight we cannot afford to lose.
So, this is where we stand. This is where we stand together and put a stop to this inequality once and for all. Men like Danny deserve better.