Paul Skyrme, a founding member of the e5 Group and respected long-time industry professional, shares the story of his fight against prostate cancer and explains why you should get yourself checked if you’re in any doubt.
So, what made me originally go for the diagnosis?
I’d been slowing down for a few years, but simply put it down to the fact that I’d changed roles over time; I’d gone from undertaking installation work and repairs to more consultancy-focused jobs and, as I was doing less physical work, my fitness was deteriorating. I also put some of it down to age.
At the end of August last year the pain was the straw that eventually broke the camel’s back. I had a pain down my sternum and across my chest as well as in my back, between the shoulder blades. That, combined with getting up every night for a toilet stop (which I thought was just down to having too many beers) eventually drove me to visit the doctor.
After speaking to the GP on the phone, I was told I could be seen that day ( just as lockdown was back in full swing). Because the paracetamol, Ibuprofen and pain relief gel seemed to be helping, the GP, understandably, thought that the problem could possibly be muscular.
I thought it was more posture-related, having spent years hunched over a laptop. The GP put me through me a good examination and gave me some strong painkillers: “Try these for a week and if you don’t get any better, I want you back here”. I contacted the GP about a week later and explained that the pain had not subsided.
Other issues emerging
As I’d also been suffering some problems with ED (erectile dysfunction), I’d asked the doctor for some blue pills. She agreed, as long as I had a blood test undertaken. So I did.
Two days later the GP rang back and told me I needed another blood test undertaken immediately and, once this had been done, it was requested that I come in for an examination (which is not as bad as it’s made out to be, by the way). It was confirmed that I had an enlarged prostate and the hospital would be in touch in due course.
Towards the end of September I received a phone call from the urologist. He confirmed that I had advanced prostate cancer. That bus hit me hard!
Dealing with the pain
Things happened quickly after that. I had X-rays, MRI scans and an isotope bone scan, which shows bone density. The results of the isotope scan were very clear: I had a lot of cancer through my whole skeleton.
I was already on long dose morphine twice a day, at home, as well as short dose Oramoprh plus a few other painkillers to help with both the inflammation and pain. This wasn’t helping though and the pain was horrendous.
A quick appointment with the urologist for treatment soon followed and I was examined for the second time (to confirm the diagnosis). It was then decided that I would begin hormone treatment.
The reality of the situation is that the cancer had spread so far, it was now incurable. Radiotherapy or chemotherapy was no longer an option as I would need to undertake so much that the rest of my body wouldn’t be able to cope with it.
The only route available to me was hormone treatment. This starves the cancer of testosterone (which prostate cancer feeds on) and hopefully stops it from growing and spreading.
The problems continue
At the beginning of November I had some issues with my bowels and was still in a lot of pain. After being examined by the GP, I contacted the urology department and was admitted for more tests but nothing too untoward was found, aside from some fluid appearing around my spinal column.
The experts attributed this to the unusual feelings I’d been having and the pain I’d been in, not to mention the deterioration in my walking, so they gave me a body brace (to help my posture) and sent me home with some painkillers and orders to keep an eye on everything.
Over the next little while the pain became unbearable – the worst I’ve experienced in my life. As my issues are in the core of my body, there was no position I could put myself in that would make it go away. As a result, I wasn’t sleeping. My wife, Yvonne, was helping me to move around at this point, but we both clung to the hope that the hormone treatment would improve things.
Yvonne has been fantastic throughout this. The way she coped with it all when I was in hospital on my own and not allowed to see visitors, and sleeping on the sofa because we’re not able to sleep in the same bed together. She’s been amazing.
Towards the end of November I got up, as usual, to visit the toilet in the night and suddenly found that I couldn’t use my right leg, and was unable to walk. I was already using a walking frame, so dragged myself up with that and managed to get to the toilet. When I was finished, I couldn’t walk at all or get myself up.
I went back to bed, but couldn’t settle, so a couple of hours later Yvonne helped me up and into a chair in the living room. I dozed there for a few hours but, come breakfast time, the pain was so bad that I couldn’t cope, nor stand any longer at all – even with the help of the frame.
At this point I thought I was either dying or in need of hospital attention immediately, so Yvonne called an ambulance. I was terrified. As the ambulance doors closed and I was looking at my wife, I remember thinking: “I hope that’s not the last time I see her.”
A long stay in hospital
After some more tests in hospital, I was put into a bed in an isolation room. I was worried I may have come into contact with someone suffering from COVID and, soon after, I found out I was COVID positive.
After another round of tests the problem was eventually identified as metastic cord compression. This is where the cancer that had spread through my bones had turned into a tumourous growth which protruded from the vertebrae (T2) and impinged my spinal cord.
At this stage I was offered two choices: a) have surgery, which would give me a “100%” chance of walking again, but a “50%” chance of survival, or b) undertake radiotherapy, which would offer me a “50%” chance of walking again, but “100%” chance of survival.
My mind was made up early on, and after consulting with Yvonne, it was decided that I’d have radiotherapy. I had one dose of radiotherapy the following day on the tumour that was crushing my spinal cord. Eventually, after several weeks, the pain started to reduce and so the amount of drugs I was taking to control the pain gradually lessened over the next three months.
During that time I was able to come off all of the really strong medication. By the time I arrived home in March, it was only paracetamol that I needed to control the pain – quite amazing when you consider the state I’d been in a few months prior.
The physiotherapists in the hospitals I’d been in were fantastic. I had five physio days per week and they worked me hard, within the confines of my pain and the deterioration in my fitness that had occurred when I was totally paralysed.
Living with prostate cancer
I was assigned a community physiotherapist, Rob, who came to my house to start working with me and has been absolutely superb. He’s even taught me to walk again using a walking aid.
I feel like I’m getting better slowly. Movement is gradually coming back and I can now walk almost as well as I did before the original incident at the end of last year. I’ll manage about 20 steps with the frame but then I need to rest for a while.
We’re currently waiting for a wet room to be installed at home, which will be a great help. The whole saga has, however, been awful financially and if it wasn’t for the generosity of the electrical industry and close friends, we’d be in a sticky situation.
What the future holds
As I build my strength and stamina back up, my focus is shifting from walking again to the actual cancer, and that’s the crux of it. Some people say you can live with cancer, but I know this is going to kill me and probably sooner than my time.
I was given a prognosis of maybe three years and the way I look at it is this: I can either curl up in a ball on my bed and give up, or fight to get better. I have a greater chance of battling this cancer by staying fit and exercising. I can’t just muddle on, and still have probably another three stone to lose.
I have two daughters, only one of whom is married, a son, and one grandchild. I want to walk my other daughter down the aisle and also see my son get married one day. I want to see my grandchildren grow up.
Don’t ignore the symptoms
My advice to others is not to make the same mistake I did and put every ache and pain down to the fact you wrecked your body with work. Don’t think you’re invincible. Go to the doctor and get yourself checked if you’re in any doubt.
The options for men with prostate cancer aren’t pleasant. If it’s caught early enough, radio- or chemotherapy can help to kill it off. The next stage of treatment can mean prostate removal, which can cause a lot of complications, while the final stage is a potentially incurable state, much like my own situation.
All of the pain, the drugs (and their side effects) and problems can be largely put down to the fact I was too macho (or stupid, as Yvonne prefers) to go to the doctor originally and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me because I’m a ‘bloke’. That bravado has ultimately proved lethal.
We need to look out for one another in our work places. If you think your mate or work colleague is going to the toilet too often or complaining about aches and pains, talk about it with them. It may just help to save a life.
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