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How prostate cancer changed my life – Billy Smith

I had no symptoms at all, but after going to my GP for an insurance-related medical examination, I had my PSA checked and as it was high, the doctor checked my prostate, and I was sent for a biopsy – results showed the presence of a very aggressive cancer.”


Retired lorry driver and agricultural contractor, William (Billy) Smith, had always enjoyed good health so wasn’t expecting any shock results when he visited his GP in the spring of 2011 in order to get a clean bill of health for insurance purposes.


“I didn’t have any symptoms and just went to my GP to get a medical done. During the appointment, my PSA was checked (as is routine for men over the age of 50) and it was very high, so the doctor checked my prostate on the spot and arranged for me to get a biopsy done. The results of this indicated the presence of a very aggressive cancer and a high Gleason count.”


The 76-year-old, who is married to Jane and has two sons and one granddaughter, was sent for further tests and was then given the unexpected news that he had prostate cancer.


“Three days and a battery of scans, tests and intimate examinations later, Jane and I were summoned to the doctor’s office to be told that I had a very aggressive form of prostate cancer which required immediate action. And after going through all the alternatives it was decided that the best course of action was a radical Prostatectomy which would be carried out by an expert team.


“I had a chat with the surgeon and asked him about the possibility of undergoing the DeVinchi keyhole surgery, which was new at the time. He said that although it was up to me, he would prefer to do a full incision to take the opportunity to have a good look around while he was at it.”


So the Wicklow man decided on this course of action and was admitted into hospital in May 2011, where he said he received the best possible care – and after surgery, went on to have a course of radiotherapy.


“The operation went well, and I awoke to a world dominated by a long wound from my navel to the root of my penis, and a catheter tube emerging from the aforementioned organ. Thanks to the wonderful care I received, I was home within a week, and soon my scar had healed, and I had recovered most of my urinary continence.


“My next visit was to be assessed for radiotherapy and it was decided that I would need 30 sessions – so I almost wore out my car driving up and down over the next six weeks, but it was worth it as I was really rewarded by the care and attention of the team who were attending to me.”


But despite doing physically well after his surgery and treatment, the father-of-two says the emotional recovery was a lot more difficult.


“My initial response to hearing I had cancer was to treat it, without emotion, as another job to get done. I knew that the operation would result in losing the ability to ejaculate, and also there was the possibility of not being able to get erection again. These are both pretty basic components of the male psyche which I had always taken for granted, but I wasn’t expecting to as impacted as I was, so the emotional side of this was a bit of a roller coaster and was tied into the physical side of things.


“It turned out that physically I was totally incapable of an erection and naturally this changed the nature of any sexual activity I could still engage in. I feel that if this problem had been addressed from the start, I might have got back some or all of my erectile function – but I was too embarrassed to bring it up with my GP or even my consultant. It was later recommended that I try out a vacuum erection device which would restore blood flow to the penis, and maybe restore some of the lost nerve function. To date, I have regained a small amount of function, but I feel the delay in acting reduced my recovery.”


Despite the difficulty he had coming to terms with the physical side effects of his treatment, Billy has had counselling from the Greystones Cancer Support Group and is also looking forward to taking part in Marie Keating Foundation support groups.


“I am very grateful for all the support I have had and am looking forward to the future.”


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