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26 Nov 2019

Brookside legend Dean Sullivan reveals he was treated for prostate cancer

Legendary British actor Dean Sullivan, known for playing lovable rogue Jimmy Corkhill in Brookside, speaks about his treatment and diagnosis.

This is an edited version of an article by Amy Packer originally published in The Mirror.

Last month the 64-year-old actor and Prostate Cancer UK Ambassador spoke for the first time about his prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment.

In March 2018 Dean noticed a change when going to the loo.

"My stream wasn’t as strong as it used to be. I used to joke I would be able to pee over a wall it was so strong."

Dean thought something wasn't right, so he visited his local surgery where a locum doctor told him he didn’t think there was anything to investigate.

Thankfully, when nothing had improved two months later, he decided to return to the practice.

"It's a bit like when you can feel you’re getting a cold. Everyone knows their own body, so when there is something not sitting right, you just know," he explains.

"Sometimes people think they’re bothering the doctor unnecessarily and that doctors are always right, so if they’ve said it’s nothing, it’s nothing. But we shouldn’t be embarrassed to go back."

Dean’s persistence may have saved his life.

"The second time I went I saw my own GP and he gave me a digital rectal examination there and then," he says.

"That was a little bit uncomfortable, but it was all over and done with in less than 30 seconds."

The examination revealed that Dean’s prostate was enlarged, so he was sent for a blood test.

"Sometimes people think they’re bothering the doctor unnecessarily ... but we shouldn’t be embarrassed to go back."
Dean Sullivan

This found his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level was raised – which can be a sign of prostate cancer – and he was referred for a biopsy, which confirmed he had prostate cancer in May 2018.

"I remember being a bit shell shocked really, because even though we know these days that one in three of us will be diagnosed with cancer of some sort, you never think it will be you."

As a single man, Dean, who lives in Merseyside, didn’t have anyone at home waiting to hear his results and he didn’t immediately share the news with friends.

"I sat on it for a while really," he says, chuckling at the black humour in his unintentional pun.

Dean opted for HDR (high dose rate) brachytherapy to treat the disease. This involves having thin tubes inserted into the gland before targeted radiation is passed down them to pinpoint and kill cancer cells.

He said: "It was a bit uncomfortable, but you put up with it."

Even though we know one in three of us will be diagnosed with cancer of some sort, you never think it will be you.
Dean Sullivan

"I was back at home in a couple of hours and didn’t dwell on it – it was an essential part of my cancer journey. I then met up with friends locally to see in the New Year... wearing a kilt…"

An MRI scan was ordered to discover whether the cancer had spread to Dean’s bones. He was sitting on a beach in Skiathos when the results came.

"Usually I have my phone off when I’m on holiday but for some reason I hadn’t this time," he recalls.

"The phone rang and it was the oncology nurse who said, 'Gosh, you’re a very difficult man to get hold of!'

"Then she revealed the scan had shown everything was fine, the cancer cells hadn’t gone anywhere else. It made my holiday even better – my friends and I were all cheering then when I hung up."

Dean learned that his treatment had worked well at the end of April this year, 10 weeks after the radiotherapy had finished, and in October he was told his PSA level had been reduced.

"It was such a relief, so wonderful to hear," he says. 

As testosterone can make prostate cancer cells grow more quickly, patients are often given hormone therapy to stop the body making testosterone."Even though my last PSA level was so low, I still have to have a hormone injection every six months for three years, which gives me the best chance that the cancer won’t come back," Dean explains.

"There are side effects including hot flushes and night sweats, which my female friends refer to as the ‘male menopause’. I’ve also lost body hair, which feels a bit emasculating, but it’s a small price to pay.”