Hospital consultant Julian O’Neill is taking part in the inaugural Round Britain Coastal Drive – which starts today – in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, joining the route in his Jaguar E-type for the Bridlington to Cromer leg. He tells us about his own experiences of the disease and how he hopes the money he raises will help improve future diagnosis and treatment.
I bought my E-type about six months ago, which is also when I joined the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club. Shortly after, I saw the Britain Coastal Drive advertised and thought it was a fantastic thing for the club to be organising as I've been affected by prostate cancer myself.
My dad was diagnosed with the disease, so I knew I had a higher risk of developing it as well. When I was 55, I went to my GP and asked for a PSA test as part of a well man clinic. At first, my GP was reluctant to give me a PSA test as I didn’t have any symptoms at the time. But after I told her about my dad, she agreed to do the test.
My result came back slightly raised for my age, so we monitored it for around six to nine months and it continued to slowly climb. A biopsy showed a low grade cancer, which meant that I now had to decide whether to have treatment or whether to sit on it – literally – and see what happened.
As a hospital consultant, I was concerned about some of the side effects of some of the treatments, so chose to have a radical prostatectomy
I decided to wait and we continued to monitor its progress for further two-and-a-half years. I’d agreed with my GP that if my PSA exceeded 8, I’d act. By 2013, it had risen to 10. I was given several treatment options, which I explored thoroughly.
As a hospital consultant myself, I am very busy and I wanted to take as little time off work as possible. I was also concerned about some of the side effects of some of the treatments, like radiotherapy, so I chose to have a radical prostatectomy in December 2013.
I am a keen cyclist and cross-country skier, and my son, Gordon, had booked me a place in the Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland for my 60th birthday. Although the event was just three months after my operation, I was able to take part with both of my sons and eight friends, and I even managed a personal best time.
We need to improve these treatments and find less invasive techniques that are less disruptive to men’s lives
I think maintaining my fitness definitely helped aid my recovery. I only had very mild side effects from the surgery and I made sure to do my exercises, which meant I had no incontinence at all.
It’s now been almost two years and nine months since my operation, and I barely remember that I’ve had it. I’m looking forward to taking part in the drive and helping raise awareness and funds to help find a better way to diagnose prostate cancer – partly because the PSA test on its own is so unreliable.
I’d also like to see more money invested in genetic testing so that, in the future, when my sons reach the age when prostate cancer might affect them, their genes can be tested which might help them find out if they will develop the disease. This could mean doctors can identify people at risk earlier and treat them before the cancer has a chance to spread.
Finally, I’d like to see better treatments developed, as all of the treatments available to me had some flaws. I picked the one which best suited me but even that had some side effects. So we need to improve these treatments and find less invasive techniques that are less disruptive to men’s lives.