Getting Real About Prostate Cancer
Broadcaster, olive oil producer and P campaigner Paul Holmes has a simple prescription for getting the best out of life after prostate cancer; “Live to the full and laugh a lot.”
Since he was diagnosed in 2003 with the cancer that affects as many men as breast cancer affects women, Paul has been a slightly reluctant poster boy for what he says is seen as an “old man’s disease.”
But he says “it’s time men told other men they need to simply do one thing – get themselves checked.
“The difference between breast and prostate cancer can be seen in the death rates; while breast cancer rates have declined in the last ten years, prostate cancer rates have risen.
Life Changes After Cancer
In a Sunday Herald column to mark the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s Blue September awareness campaign last year he noted: “Life changes after breast cancer, just as life changes after prostate cancer.
“While women have gone out and made their sisters aware of breast cancer, men have failed to make their brothers as conscious of the dangers and prevalence of prostate cancer.”
He says undoubtedly the biggest impact prostate cancer has had on his life is the prolonged and sometimes humiliating treatment required, and “the loss of sexual function, or indeed, any desire.”
Says Paul: “After the hormone and radiation treatments, one ceases to even think about sex. Sexuality completely disappears. This would put strain on many a relationship, fortunately not on mine, though it changes things and you cease to wonder how it has.”
Staying Alive Without Sex
As Paul told New Idea; “It was a choice between staying alive and healthy and not having sex, or not having treatment. Well, the choice is a no-brainer, isn’t it?
“But that doesn’t mean that a person is not still a man. You know, I’m still competitive, ambitious and professional. I still love my family. And there was only one priority – you have got to get that cancer out of your body. Everything else is secondary.”
Paul and his wife Deborah had only just started living together when he was diagnosed, but they’ve weathered the storms and married a year later.
They point out that not all men lose sexual ability, and there are several options available in assisting with restoring sexual function.
The severity of the erectile dysfunction – and whether it is temporary or permanent – depends on the type of surgery, stage of cancer, and the type of treatment.
One study shows erectile dysfunction rates of 66% for nerve-sparing prostatectomy versus 75% for non-nerve sparing surgery at one year after the surgery. The use of vacuum devices or drugs such as Viagra after surgery once the body has healed may improve the quality of erections and speed the return of normal sexual function.
Loss of erectile function is the most common long-term complication of radiation therapy. But its occurrence decreases when more sophisticated treatments, like radioactive seed implants (brachytherapy), intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), and 3-D conformal radiotherapy, are used.
Men’s Awareness Growing
Five years on from his diagnosis Paul says men are now much more aware about prostate cancer.
“My own prostate cancer and the ensuring publicity might have helped a little. Certainly there is now much more knowledge and many men approach me for advice. Any cancer is freaky and worrying, but I sense there is no longer any reluctance to be open with others about prostate cancer.”
If there was one thing he’d like to get across to NZ Prime Minister John Key it’s the need for a national campaign to alert men to the need to get prostate cancer checks annually.
“Every time men get a blood test over the age of 40, the doctor should probably tick the box for a PSA test. Men have a responsibility to get themselves checked.”
Keeping a Healthy Prostate
A low-fat, high-fiber diet, reducing stress and getting regular exercise can all help safe guard prostate health, research shows. Dietary supplements like Prostate Power Flow, containing herbs like saw palmetto and active ingredients like lycopene (from tomatoes) can also be beneficial.