Being diagnosed with prostate cancer under the age of 50 isn’t very common. But this is what happened to Mark in 2013. He was diagnosed with localised prostate cancer at the age of 45. He shares what it was like to be first diagnosed, his experience of talking to health professionals about his sexuality, and starting a new relationship while having treatment. 

Being diagnosed

One day I noticed blood in my urine. This happened only twice and so I didn’t think too much about it - I just put it down to a strain or too much alcohol. Eventually I called my local sexual health clinic and on the same day went to see a GP. After discussing my symptoms, I was referred to a urologist at the Blackpool Victoria Hospital. I had a blood test and some scans  to find out what the problem was.

I then received a letter that said I needed to have an emergency biopsy. This was very alarming and my brain was going all over the place. I remember wondering all sorts of things like “am I going to die?”

I was booked in quickly for a biopsy – I was impressed by how fast everything was done. When I went back for my results the consultant was very matter of fact. He said “you have prostate cancer” whilst he made notes and looked at the screen. I was then given loads of information and different options, but I couldn’t think or take anything in. I was in total shock. I went from not having a clue about cancer, to walking out with cancer.

Having treatment

My options were surgery (radical prostatectomy) or radiotherapy. My PSA had risen to 40 and I was still only 45 years old at this point. I decided that surgery was the best option for me. In June 2014 I went to the Royal Preston Hospital for my operation.

After surgery I was told that they were unable to remove all of the cancer. I was also told that the cancer was no longer contained in my prostate like they first thought. It had started to spread towards my bladder and bowel. Because of this, I was advised to have intensive radiotherapy for 32 weeks. On top of that I also had hormone therapy. This was disappointing news and there were times when I did wonder "why me?"

It was tough, but I found that it helped to have a positive attitude. No one chooses to have cancer, so if you have it you’ve just got to get on with it. I carried on working as it seemed to take my mind off things. Some people might say that’s impossible, but when you live with cancer every day it does help to have a break – for me, being at work helped.

It was tough, but I found that it helped to have a positive attitude

Talking about sexuality to health professionals

I’m honest about who I am but never openly said “I’m gay” to any health professional. There wasn’t an opportunity to discuss my sexuality and no one ever asked me. But I generally had good experiences with staff at the hospitals. Most health professionals knew I was gay because of the questions that I asked.

I would say, be honest and positive about who you are – be straightforward and open, say if you’re gay or bi because the treatment and how it’s dealt with can be quite different. It’s all about strength and your character as a person.

Starting a new relationship during treatment

I didn’t have a partner when I was first diagnosed – I attended most of my appointments with my mum and had support from other family members and friends. But I liked being on my own. Having space to process things and go through everything in my own mind was important to me. I knew support was there if I needed it.

I first met my husband online when I was having radiotherapy. I was nervous about meeting him face-to-face but I was honest about my treatment and the side effects I was experiencing, like erectile dysfunction. He was completely understanding and supportive from the start. Sex is different now and it can be disappointing when things don’t go to plan, especially when you’re in a new relationship. But there is more to life than sex and you don’t need to force it or put pressure on yourself. If you’ve got a loving and strong relationship, then that’s more important – that’s what life is about.

We’re now married and my husband attends medical appointments with me. Together we’ve had good experiences and he’s always been welcomed and involved in my care. He asks questions that I would never think of. This has been a huge help.

I also attend the Out With Prostate Cancer Support group in Manchester. The group has become part of my life. My husband now attends with me and has input in conversations. No topic is taboo in the group and discussions are directed at what we want to know. I now feel experienced enough to tell new members honestly about my story, what’s happened to me and how things have affected my body so that they can make better decisions themselves.

Read more about sex and relationship in our booklet Prostate cancer and your sex life.

 

Personal stories

Mick Barrow's story

I was treated for advanced prostate cancer five years ago. I had ignored the fact that I constantly needed to go to the toilet, which is a potential symptom of prostate cancer, until I saw one of Prostate Cancer UK's posters of a dripping tap.

It was a complete shock when I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. If I had not seen the poster of the dripping tap in the pharmacy, I may not be here today.

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