Facing the diagnosis of prostate cancer can change the way you think about life. For some it can cause a whirlwind of emotions stirring up inside that can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, helplessness or even anger. Everyone reacts differently, but the reality is that few can escape the shock to the system that this ‘bit of bad news’ can have on an individual.
It also is commonly thought that women are more proactive when diagnosed with cancer and tend to seek help at the early stages of illness. Unfortunately, studies show that the same cannot be said about men with ‘Machismo’ culture casting a blanket over one’s ‘insurmountable’ problems. The fact that many men ignore the symptoms and keep silent about their pain really puts into question society’s stigma on the matter.
Chairman of the Prostate Cancer Support Group John Diaz has suffered from prostate cancer for the last twelve years and offers support to those who face the daunting battle to beat the disease, “It is very depressing, but you need to keep fighting every day. Sometimes you feel down, but as you go along, there are a whole lot of things that can make things better. In 2004, when I was diagnosed, it appeared to me that the world had stopped. My prostate-specific antigen (PSA) was at 95, which is very high (the norm is between zero and four), so it was quite aggressive. Fortunately, after radiotherapy treatment, my PSA came down to zero. I kept it up for ten years or so, but it has started to return, so I am receiving treatment to keep it low. I have to thank God that I have survived for twelve years now.”
It is difficult to come to terms with the reality of the situation when it first hits you, but it is a disease that you have to fight against and not let it take over. Men must fight the fear factor and ensure the best quality of life as possible. This is what the PCSG wants to put forward to men through their awareness campaigns that give advice on how to trace the changes to their body and deal with the problem as soon as possible, “People should be aware of the symptoms that come with prostate disease. If it is dealt with quickly, you have a good chance of survival, so that is why we are so persistent on spreading awareness. Movember is our flagship where we have a whole month of support and the dangers of prostate cancer are put under the spotlight for the community to learn from.” The Movember Foundation is a worldwide campaign that addresses some of the biggest health issues faced by men, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer as well as mental health and suicide prevention. The foundation is independent of government funding and has contributed to more than 1,200 men’s health projects around the world in thirteen years. The aim is to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25% by 2030. Using ‘Macho’ themes to show men that it is not embarrassing to see a doctor for these sorts of afflictions, Movember attracts celebrities worldwide to get involved. The stigma is slowly fading away, but more need to be done, “It is men themselves who place this stigma on men’s health and seeing the doctor. They feel a little less manly because it’s prostate cancer, but it affects the whole body. The ‘Machismo’ culture in Gibraltar could lead to them feeling embarrassed to visit their doctor in this scenario. We started with the motto ‘How’s your Walnut’, but we are trying to follow the example of the UK that uses words like ‘Men United’ to express that this is a team effort with men from all around the world taking part.”
Some of the thoughts that circle around the mind of a man prior to diagnosis are ‘if I have prostate cancer, I will die’, which inevitably puts them off visiting a doctor. But there are many things that can be done to fight the disease and, once again, the earlier it is done, the better. The emotional side can be one of the hardest to deal with. A sense of loss can take hold and a change of identity can occur at home as well as constantly worrying about side effects from medication. A person can feel very alone when undergoing treatment and, whether we like to admit it or not, there are cases in Gibraltar where men are facing this struggle without family support. Shock, fear or anger could be the initial feeling, followed by denial, but no one can predict how any one person can react to the news of prostate cancer, “I have had friends who have stopped me in my tracks when I try to talk about this subject. ‘Don’t mention this kind of thing to me’ they would say and start walking off. We need to be more open about this and, although it is hard to break down these barriers, we must continue to offer our support.”
The PCSG’s efforts in fundraising have contributed to the installation of improved equipment at the Urology department at St Bernard’s hospital, a huge milestone for the group. It has been functioning for over a year now and the group is now at a stage where it wants to revamp the prostate clinic by collaborating with the urologist to ascertain what he needs so that patients can receive treatment in-house. The group is also realistic about the size and requirements of a small place like Gibraltar which is unable to secure facilities at the level of the top UK and Spanish hospitals. However, private hospitals in Spain that have links with St Bernard’s Hospital, such as Xanit, provide some respite for those who regularly receive treatment abroad in the UK. There are also circumstances in older generations where they feel more comfortable expressing themselves in Spanish and it makes a significant difference when you are feeling vulnerable. It also provides easier access for family members to visit a loved one when receiving treatment in Spain, “It is important to have family members around you during this period. Just very recently the new chemotherapy suite has been opened at St. Bernard’s Hospital. It will be operated by professional oncologists and specialist staff from Xanit. We have a Consultant Urologist from Xanit at the hospital on a part-time basis; whereas our preference would be for a full-time appointment. We need to go outside Gibraltar for further assessment (after diagnosis in Gibraltar) as this requires extensive investment in expensive equipment and specialists teams to operate and carry out surgery, so Xanit is a good alternative option to the UK.”
The PCSG is coming up with new and innovative ways to spread awareness and have launched an app providing information and advice on men’s health, including contacts and a platform from which to donate to the cause. The group is calling out to all men to show their support and grow a moustache for Movember in order to raise funds for the charity. For those who are interested in making a donation, they can do so on the group’s Just Giving page or, alternatively, contact them directly on 580 091 61 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Get ready for a hairy month and grow your Mo to support a bro.