Article by Nikolaas Harding
BBC EastEnders character, 79 year old Stan Carter, played by Timothy West CBE, has recently revealed to his family that he has prostate cancer – a secret that he has kept for three years.
40,000 men like Stan are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK and 40,000 families like the Carters are left struggling to come to terms with the situation. Men over 50 are at higher than average risk of prostate cancer, meaning that many women of this age could face the prospect of supporting their partner through the disease.
A positive diagnosis and treatment can put huge emotional strain on a relationship and the family unit.
Impact of Prostate Cancer on Relationship
Rebekah Howe, 54, mother of 5 from Bedford, sadly lost her husband Mark to prostate cancer in 2012. He was diagnosed in 2010 aged 52. Rebekah tells her story to raise awareness of the disease and to promote further research into more effective diagnosis and treatment.
“I was stunned,” utter disbelief was Rebekah’s first emotion. Mark was a fit man, active farmer, and keen rugby player with no family history of the disease. In his children’s eyes he was “immortal because of all his bumps on the farm and playing rugby,” she said.
The couple decided not to fully reveal the details of his condition to their children; information that they may not fully be able to comprehend. Telling friends of the diagnosis was very important to them to encourage others to have their PSAs (Prostate Specific Antigen blood test) checked and raise awareness of prostate cancer.
“He didn’t want people to think he was ‘ill’. We continued to go to parties, spend time with friends, go to concerts, see the rugby, and make the most of every opportunity. We did everything together, our relationship became much stronger.”
Never did she worry about the future of her relationship with Mark, instead the bond between them was rekindled by love and the support they offered each other: “I would have done anything for him and him for me, even if it was me in his position.”
Mark went to his GP following conversations with his mates after a guest-speaker urologist gave a talk at his local Rotary club. He had a PSA and had a slightly high reading for his age, which prompted concern. Further tests revealed that Mark did have cancer. However, at the time, he believed that treatment was unnecessary, similar to the Stan storyline in EastEnders.
The seriousness and progression of his cancer became clear after a later ultrasound. “We were rushing around trying to buy hormone drugs before all the pharmacies closed.” He went on to have keyhole surgery to remove his prostate, radiotherapy and took part in clinical trials.
Looking back after Mark’s death, she says, “You become aware of the frailty of life. The PSA tests were so crude. The more that can be done to increase funds into research for diagnostic tools and better treatment, the better.”
Anyone who is affected by the issues faced by Rebekah, or the Carters, can phone one of Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses, on 0800 074 8383, download information from its website prostatecanceruk.org, or speak to their GP.
*The PSA test is a blood test that measures the amount of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in your blood. A raised PSA level may suggest your partner has a problem with the prostate including prostate cancer.
About Prostate Cancer UK
- As well as leading change, and spearheading ground-breaking research, Prostate Cancer UK also supports men by giving them the facts around prostate cancer
- Men United is Prostate Cancer UK’s movement for everyone who thinks men are worth fighting for. The charity aims to beat this disease by building a new power-base of people across the UK to help it challenge the status quo.
- A call for a new diagnostic route is at the forefront of Men United’s objectives. The PSA test is not future proof, and the movement aims to help Prostate Cancer UK to find the answers, intensifying the scientific quest for better tests and treatments.
- To join the movement, everyone is urged to search Men United online, spread the word to their friends, and get involved in the fight against prostate cancer. www.prostatecanceruk.org.