They say moving house can be one of the most stressful things you can do. But for Bill Arthur, 58, relocation was the least of his problems when he discovered, by chance, that he had prostate cancer. The stalwart Sky Sports rugby league reporter shares his story and talks about why he's helping Prostate Cancer UK establish a real presence in the sport.
"Up until November 2011 I knew very little about prostate cancer. I’d heard of it, but it just wasn’t on my radar, like, say breast cancer. With prostate cancer I knew the words but that’s about it. I was about to learn a lot more.
"I feel I was very lucky to be diagnosed when I was, as I had no symptoms at all. We were moving house, down to Nottinghamshire to be nearer the in-laws.
"I'd been living in a rented house with my wife and two children. The property market was quiet and we couldn't find anywhere we really wanted to buy. Then a property came up and, as part of the mortgage process, I was required to have a health check. That showed up a high protein level and one thing led to another - blood test, biopsy, scans and then diagnosis.
"I had locally advanced prostate cancer. But if we hadn't decided to move house, and we were happy in our little rented cottage, then I would've been completely unaware that I had the disease. That's why I think it's so important to raise awareness of prostate cancer and encourage men to get checked out before it's too late.
My file was open on the desk. I can remember quite clearly seeing the words ‘prostate cancer’ written, but I don’t think either of us actually mentioned them.
"I always remember one visit to see my doctor during the initial period. My file was open in front of him on the desk. It was upside down but I can remember quite clearly seeing the words ‘prostate cancer’ written across the corner of a document. I saw the words and he had obviously written the words, but I don’t think either of us actually mentioned them. I suppose I didn’t want to hear it said out loud. I didn’t want to ask about it.
"I finally got confirmation of the diagnosis in mid-January from an oncology nurse, over the phone. I had asked them to let me know as soon as possible. She was really just confirming what I already knew, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear and I’m not sure I took in all she was saying.
There are no easy answers on prostate cancer but good information really helps.
"The confirmation meant the uncertainty was over. I met my oncologist, Dr Jamie Mills and he gave me a full rundown on the wealth of treatment options and the timetable for each. I didn’t realise there were so many different paths to take, unlike some other cancers which seem to have one obvious treatment route. Honestly, I was a bit bewildered by the options and it didn’t make me feel very optimistic. At a time when I was down, I was expected to make crucial choices so it was all a bit daunting. I eventually opted for hormone treatment with tablets, plus eight weeks of radiotherapy starting in March 2012, with the radiotherapy at Nottingham City Hospital.
"It was while I was sitting in the reception at the radiotherapy unit that I came across literature from Prostate Cancer UK. Although I’d been told a lot, I’m not sure I took it all in. Reading those publications was really helpful. Unlike some of the stuff on the internet this was clear and honest, not scary. It was useful to take it away and keep it for reference. There are no easy answers on prostate cancer but good information really helps. I was lucky to have good care and support every step of the way.
"Looking back one of the hardest things was telling the family. Given that I’d been completely well and had not had an inkling there was anything wrong with me, it came as a big shock to them too. It was pretty grim.
"Fast forward to today and I’ll never tire of saying that I’m in great health. I'm still on the hormone treatment and will be for another four months but my psa has come down from a level of over 200 at one point to 0.49.
I do tell people absolutely straight when I’m asked about it. I am appalled at the level of ignorance about prostate cancer and I will never forget it was luck that I was diagnosed early, not through any sort of informed action on my part.
"I suppose in some ways I have become evangelical about what I’ve been through. While I don’t want to force conversation on people, I do tell them absolutely straight when I’m asked about it. I am appalled at the level of ignorance about prostate cancer and I will never forget it was luck that I was diagnosed early, not through any sort of informed action on my part. I do think men, especially younger men who are, for the most part, oblivious, need to know the risk and get some understanding of the disease.
"That’s why I’m sharing my own story now. Blokes have got to stop being blasé about their health. If I hadn’t had that medical my story could have been a different one. If there’s one good thing about having prostate cancer it’s that it’s stopped me taking things, especially my health, for granted. It’s encouraged me to speak out as part of the campaign and hopefully the message will get to more men. As part of the rugby league community, I’m so proud that the sport has embraced the Men United campaign and it’s brilliant to see the charity in the spotlight.
"That’s thanks to some wonderful support from my colleagues at Sky (two of whom, Eddie Hemmings and Andy Dougal, have also come through a similar prostate cancer journey to me) as well as people within the game. There are big-name players involved such as Kevin Sinfield, Paul Wellens and Sean O’Loughlin as well as clubs like Widnes Vikings, head coaches and all manner of club staff. It’s very humbling to hear that my story has helped draw this to their attention and seeing the Man of Men pin badge being worn by people across Sky’s coverage has been incredible.
"I knew this already, but you won’t find a sport with a bigger heart."