A tale of two brothers

This is the tale of two brothers, Chris (64) and Jon (61), who happened to be diagnosed with prostate cancer within a few months of each other. Chris takes up the story:

Chris John

“Jon and I had the same prostate operation less than two months apart at the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008. We both independently chose the “da Vinci” route (“robot-assisted-laparoscopic radical prostatectomy” to give it the full medical definition, but “da Vinci” sounds so much more appealing at the dinner table!) and we’re both already well on track with our recovery, one of us after ten weeks and the other after just three weeks.

Here’s how it all happened for us and for our families. For me, the start was a routine medical check-up in the summer of ‘07, something I know I had postponed for at least a couple of years. In addition to receiving the predictable warning about my cholesterol levels, the need to take more exercise and to lose some weight, there appeared to be a raised PSA reading in the blood test at 9.5 and a strong recommendation to see my GP.

It was a further few weeks before I got around to seeing my GP – we men tend not to rush these things, especially during the summer sailing season! His advice was however very clear and an immediate appointment was booked to see the urology consultant at the local NHS Hospital resulting in an almost indecently swift date for a biopsy – I even had a momentary hankering to be on one of those NHS waiting lists we used to hear so much about! The results indicated a cancer on one side of the prostate gland.

At this stage I received a thick folder of helpful and detailed material to read covering all the treatment options for a wide range of prostate conditions – from here onwards the learning curve suddenly became extremely steep! Thus far my wife and I had kept the whole matter to ourselves but it was now time to seek opinions from a wider network. We took three main routes:

We read all the documents and made copious notes about the various treatments available.
We e-mailed our network of friends from California to Dubai and also “Googled” the Internet to locate the main UK suppliers – this is how we found Professor Kirby at the Prostate Centre.
We contacted my niece Katie, a hospital registrar currently working her passage at a London hospital, to check our findings and opinions with her medical network. Dr. Katie endorsed much of our initial research and, unbeknown to her at that time, was soon to become much more deeply involved in the whole saga much closer to home!
It was less than a week after having the biopsy results confirmed that my wife and I travelled from our Sussex home to see Professor Roger Kirby in London’s Wimpole Street. His advice was to consider two main options which he said would suit my particular condition and relatively young age – we were also shown two DVDs, one about brachytherapy (the latest radiotherapy treatment), and the other about radical surgery using the Da Vinci method in which Prof Kirby specialises – “getting it out and into the bucket” was how he helpfully described the latter for my benefit! Prof Kirby also questioned my wife about the closeness of our relationship which at the time I thought rather odd but we have since realised how important an actively supportive spouse can be throughout the process. He also mentioned the likely side effects such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction, and he finished the interview by suggesting that my two brothers would be well advised to have their PSA levels checked.

It was now late October and I was due to spend a fortnight on holiday in Africa – a welcome break from “project walnut”, as we now called it. The decision to go for the “da Vinci” surgery option arrived in our heads one blissfully sunny morning walking along a beach – from all the information we had absorbed and considered during the past few weeks, it just seemed the right way to go.

Enter at this point in the story my younger brother Jon – the aforementioned Dr Katie is his daughter. Jon had been resisting family pressure to get his PSA test done for some time – full-time work and a busy life, etc. In the event, his test showed almost identical results to mine (an initial PSA of 5.5) and his researches were much assisted by Katie’s detailed involvement. Indeed she assisted her father in investigating the options in great depth and attended most of the meetings with the medical specialists, including Prof Kirby.

Prior to my operation in mid November I also met the anaesthetist, who took one look at me, and then set me the task of walking 3 hours and drinking 3 litres of water each day and losing half a stone in weight in the remaining 6 days before the operation! I later found out he had just run the New York marathon – I declined to ask his finishing time!

My operation in November was on the Prof’s birthday, and my last recollection as I disappeared under the anaesthetic was attempting to sing Happy Birthday to him! I regret not being able to say anything about the actual operation or even to relate what “da Vinci” looks like! I awoke some three hours later feeling slightly drowsy but in no great pain or discomfort.

In both my case and Jon’s a few weeks later, we were based at The London Clinic for our operations and our wives stayed in nearby hotels for the 4 days we were hospitalised. The Clinic was itself an amazing experience – more like a hotel run by nurses, every one of whom was a seasoned specialist full of good advice and constant encouragement. Who could ever forget the personal hygiene lecture from Sister Maggie? Let alone her recipe for prune tea – an essential part of the recovery programme! Our families and friends came and went whenever they chose and on the third day we were even encouraged to venture out to the shops and a restaurant in nearby Marylebone High Street.

Having been released from the Clinic to return home, we’ve both continued to benefit from close and helpful support from the team at The Prostate Centre and have followed their valuable recuperation advice to drink red wine, do nothing we don’t wish to do and to make sure we have at least an hour’s siesta each afternoon! We’re both doing better than expected in the “continence department” and our medical friends all want to view our surgical incisions – in fact they’re already little more than a few scratches.

I suppose I really should have asked Roger Kirby why he wanted me to pen these reflections – apart from extolling the benefits of his treatment with the da Vinci machine. I am sure it was to encourage all men of my generation (50+) and especially those who, like me, tend to avoid anything medical, to ensure that they have their PSA tested regularly. My medical check cost me hundreds of pounds – a PSA test can however be done on request free of charge at a GP’s surgery. Bearing in mind we experienced absolutely no prior symptoms of our prostate cancers, both Jon and I consider ourselves the luckiest lads alive for having caught our conditions in good time – despite our delaying tactics!”