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Spike Farrell

I really am fed up with making mistakes. I do it all the time, and it's starting to get to me! My first marriage, now that was a humdinger, and many other silly little things along the way. But the biggest mistake I have ever made, which I rate right up there with The Titanic striking that pesky iceberg, was me not listening to my body. Years ago, I started to notice that I was beginning to have a problem passing water. Now I really didn't think too much about it, after all I was in my fifties and I just took it as an "ageing thing". Big mistake number one!

A few years later, I was visiting my doctor on a completely unrelated issue, when he asked me when I last had had a check-up. Well, ego being what ego is, and considering I was a former footballer who used to play for a good team and had kept myself quite fit and in shape by plenty of road-running, I told him I really didn't think I needed one! Big mistake number two!

Quick as a flash, before even the doctor had time to write an unreadable prescription, I found myself having a full medical, which incorporated a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test for Prostate Cancer. Now quite frankly, Prostate Cancer was so far off my radar, and completely out of my mind, I mean, I was fit and well and there was no history of any form of cancer in my family at all, so I didn't even worry about it. Anyway, Prostate Cancer has never had much press coverage, not like Breast Cancer, so I honestly didn't know too much about it.

But the next day, quick as a flash, I received a phone call from the doctor asking me to pop in for a chat. Still I wasn't worried, it was probably only cholestral or high blood pressure or something like that. I mean, I was very fit, wasn't I? No, I wasn't!

Apparently the PSA test result had shown up a reading of 18.33 which was extremely high, as normal is in the region of 4, that meant there was a good chance that I had Prostate Cancer. So in a matter of hours I was in hospital for a biopsy. Boy, these medico's move fast when they want to! Even then, I still wasn't too worried, in retrospect I definitely was in a form of denial, I think now mainly because of the speed that things were happening, it was almost like watching a film! I just didn't have time to take it all in, along with the ramifications.

The results of the biopsy came back and it was confirmed, I had Prostate Cancer. Of the six samples taken, three from each side of the Prostate, five had come back positive. Even at this stage, I was virtually completely ignorant about Prostate Cancer, and only when I went to see the Urologist did the penny drop with a resounding clang, and the cold, clammy hand of reality started to settle on me. It dawned on me it was quite serious. That's when the laughing stopped.

Prostate Cancer is the most common form of cancer found in American men, other than skin cancer. One in six men will get Prostate Cancer, and one in thirty six men will die from it. In the US last year, 30,000 men died of Prostate Cancer and, to put it in perspective, just over 30,000 woman died of Brest Cancer in the same year. The trick is to get an early diagnosis, and that means having a regular check-up, especially when you reach fifty and beyond. Most of my friends hadn't had the test done, the feeling seemed to be an aversion to the dreaded "Finger Test", most seemed to think, "Don't want to do that, guess I'll take a chance on that one!" That's pretty short-sighted and potentially dangerous!

The Urologist sat me down and quite matter of factly, told me the score. Aparently I had the "slow growing" form of the cancer, but because I hadn't been tested at all for years, it had become quite a problem, in as much as it had firmly taken hold. If it had been picked up years earlier, it would not have been such a problem as it was now. My options were coldly simple, I could have the Radical Prostatectomy, which entailed cutting out and removing the entire Prostate Gland. This is extreme to say the least, and leads to massive problems, such as the complete end of sex which for me was not an option as I had just got re-married! The other, and obviously more popular treatment is Branchytherapy, which does not require radical surgery but does have it's drawbacks all of its own.

I chose Branchytherapy. It's is a relatively simple procedure, which consists of having a number of Radiation Seeds implanted into your Prostate. These seeds remain there forever and the radiation itself lasts for about six months before dying away. The side effects vary from person to person, and depend heavily on how many seeds are implanted. The Prostate Gland is about the size of a walnut, and each seed the size of a grain of rice. Now taking that into account, because of my stupidity in not having check-ups when I should have and letting the cancer take hold, I had fifty seeds implanted. I guess you could say I have some prostate in amongst my radiation seeds! To be perfectly honest, the implanting of the seeds, a one day stay in hospital with no overnight, was a dawdle! I found that the biopsy was far worse, with quite a bit of discomfort afterwards, mainly because they were taking things out, not putting things in! And that was it really. The procedure done, I just went home.

Now at this point you may be asking how I was feeling about being diagnosed with cancer, well I guess I am a funny guy. Having been in some quite difficult situations in the past, I tend to go ice-cold and don't worry about what may or may not happen, I just get on with it. Initially, I never actually worried about any of it at all. Until later. I think it was more of a delayed reaction, when the reality of my situation actually started to hit home, and hit home it did! I went through the whole gambit of emotions, shock, anger and acute depression. I was not an easy person to be around, I stopped seeing my friends as I thought that the last thing they needed was me mopping about with a long face. I was more worried about the reaction of my wife Dede, but I needn't have worried, she was magnificent! I really don't know what I would have done without her, she really is one in a million!

Immediately after the procedure, the doctor gave me information about things I had to do and what to expect while the radiation took effect. Now I must tell you that for the first month, I had no major problems at all. Ok, there was a bit of pain, but I expected that, things seemed to be going really well. Then Bang!

About a month after the implants were placed, the side effects kicked in. The thing about this kind of treatment is that the radiation doesn't only affect the "bad stuff", but it fries everything else in the immediate area. I started with a warm feeling in my stomach, and then my entire system seemed to go on holiday. Going to the bathroom was a major problem, I felt feverish and started to get bad headaches. Sleeping too, was a bit of a challenge and I just felt totally exhausted and washed out.

I had my procedure in October 2013, the side effects kicked in in November. I felt so bad that I actually don't remember too much of November and December that year. It was that bad! Fortunately, being a writer, I work from home because an eight to five job would have been impossible!

Initially I had been given some antibiotics by the doctor, along with an anti-swelling drug to decrease the bathroom problem, but nothing seemed to work, so I decided that I just had to ride through it. Again I must stress I was a shocking person to be with at that time, how my poor wife survived, I don't know! As I have said before, I took a back-step from my friends and sadly, I haven't been able to get back to the same state as before with them. Never mind, one day maybe!

The past few months have been quite tough, I have been picking up, but what I have found is that I will be fine for a couple of weeks, then I seem to have a relapse and feel rather unwell for a few days. Even now, almost eleven months after the procedure I still find I have to take the anti-swelling drug to reduce the discomfort. Sex is "unusual" having thankfully not gone for the radical surgery, the "hydrolics" still function perfectly, however the radiation has fried everything else, so I don't think I will be adding to the worlds population anytime soon!

I cannot adaquetly tell you how depressed I have been about this entire event in my life, it was a major shock initially, but I have indeed come to terms with it. I continue to go for regular PSA tests and the good news is that the count continues to go down with each blood test. Not out of the woods yet, but a definite improvement from where I was a year ago!

My message to people is simply this, Cancer is a part of life, just as sure as the sun rises in the morning heralding another day. Life is all about perception and perspective, no-one ever said life was going to be easy, and it is most definitely very important not to allow Cancer to get you down. It would have been very easy for me, after the diagnosis to just sit in a corner and cry, but that's not my way. I think it is vital to confront the difficulties that life throws your way with confidence and determination, if you can do that, that's half the battle. I am going to beat this thing and although I know my life has been shortened by this disease, I like to think of my very favorite saying;

"What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset." (American Indian Saying.)

Shalom Mkhize


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