Ken Bashford overcame the debilitating side effects of his prostate cancer treatment to walk the last hundred yards of Jeff Stelling's March last year, when it visited his hometown of Marske. In this searingly honest account, he describes the devastation he and his family felt when he was diagnosed in 2015, the drugs trial that has given him a new lease of life, and how he's looking forward to joining Jeff again on the final day of his March for Men.
My whole life changed on 2 May 2015. I went to my doctors for an MOT and passed with flying colours. I’d asked for a PSA test due to my age and because I’d lost my brother to prostate cancer ten years earlier.
My doctor got my PSA results up on screen and said, “Oh dear, that’s high”. I didn’t have a clue what he was on about – I had no symptoms. He immediately examined me on the bed in the consulting room and, believe me, I saw stars! He then told me I had a 50% chance of having prostate cancer and referred me straight away to the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough.
I left the surgery in a daze and walked to my van. It didn’t sink in until I put my hands across the steering wheel and my head in my hands. I felt tears running down my face, thinking this could be serious. I can’t remember driving home the three miles it takes me.
I was shaking as the doctor opened my file and Elaine held my hand. He said I had aggressive prostate cancer and my eyes filled up
Elaine, my wife, came home from shopping and read me like a book. She asked me what was wrong and I just broke. What is this prostate cancer? What do I do? Elaine called my lads, Dan and Andrew, to come over. They couldn’t believe it when we told them and sobbed like me. We had tickets for the Middlesbrough match that day and the lads convinced me to go. I cannot remember one thing about the game – my head was all over the place.
Ten days later, I had a biopsy and bone scans at the hospital. The biopsy was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. When I had to go for the results, I was terrified and didn’t want to go in. But Elaine, Dan and Andrew came with me and convinced me to do so.
I was shaking as the doctor opened my file and Elaine held my hand. He said I had aggressive prostate cancer and my eyes filled up. He said: “I can’t cure you but with treatment starting now, I can contain it”. I felt my bottom lip starting to shake but managed to hold myself together till I got outside the consulting room. We told the lads, who were in the waiting room, and when they heard they could treat me, Dan almost broke my back with a bear hug! I got to the car and just sobbed on Elaine’s shoulder.
After the injections, my stomach would swell up like the size of a small rugby ball
My treatment started that day and I had three degeralix hormone injections into my stomach. This was to have huge side effects. My love life was gone almost overnight. After the injections, my stomach would swell up like the size of a small rugby ball – and I now needed degeralix once a month for the rest of my life. For three weeks out of four, I was so sore and tender at the injection site, and felt so weak and tired. But it was working: my PSA level was coming down.
I was asked by the hospital if I would consider taking part in the STAMPEDE trial. I agreed, was accepted and to this day I take 1,000mg of abiraterone every morning at 6am and 160mg of enzalutamide tablets after breakfast, plus a steroid tablet every day. I’m one of only five people in the country on this trial with the degeralix as well, and the only patient in James Cook Hospital [Ken is pictured above with some of the clinicians running the trial].
Because of this trial, I’m one of the most monitored patients in the country. Once a month, I get my blood taken at my GP and they check everything: heart, liver, lungs etc, plus my blood pressure and PSA level. My PSA was steady at 0.2, but I was feeling so tired on an afternoon and needed a half-hour power nap.
It was great to meet up with Jeff Stelling on the first leg of his walk last year – I literally crawled out of bed to be there
I was still dreading my monthly injection of degeralix and felt my quality of life was very low because of it. So Elaine and I had to make a big decision in December 2015. I was offered a new treatment called Zoladex, given as an implant every three months instead of the injection. But would the change affect my PSA level?
We eventually decided to go for it and the next PSA test after the implant was 0.2! I was buzzing and so relieved it had worked. No swollen painful stomach meant I could get about again. I joined a local prostate cancer support group, which I find really helpful, and my PSA level went even lower at 0.1.
It was great to meet up with Jeff Stelling on the first leg of his walk last year – I literally crawled out of bed to be there. We had a good chat and he really listened and said this is for you guys. I was even asked to join the walk for the last hundred yards to the finish line at Marske United, my local football club. Everyone made me so welcome – I loved it.
I’ve learnt that I have to fight this prostate cancer all the time: when it knocks you down, you have to get back up there or it will win!
Since then, I’ve continued my treatment and had radiotherapy for a new tumour discovered in my chest. Despite this, my PSA test in January was still 0.1. My immune system was very low but I’m back on the mend now and taking things one step at a time.
This prostate cancer is such a horrible, unforgiving thing. I find myself on a high then bang, it knocks you back down again. But I’ve learnt that I have to fight this prostate cancer all the time: when it knocks you down, you have to get back up there or it will win!
I’ve got a lot to live for and the help and support of my wonderful family, doctors and nurses – without these people I couldn’t do it. I love my family so much and this has brought us even closer together.
I'm really looking forward to meeting Jeff Stelling and the rest of the Prostate Cancer UK crew again at this year's March for Men. It meant so much to me when I was emailed to say it would be an honour to walk with me again. It gives me the strength to go on.