My mindset throughout all this has been, "I'm going to beat this thing." I went for a blood test, a straightforward blood test for a 59-year-old, just to make sure that everything's in fine order. And then I went away for a week on holiday. When I came back, I was given a call and they said to me, "Your PSA level's high," which I didn't know what that meant. And when it said high, I thought, "Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?" And they said, "No, it's not. Your PSA level of seven is not good. It is a cancer test for prostate cancer. You have potentially got prostate cancer. We need to have you in to explore the scenario further."
It's bizarre. You almost go into almost a filmic environment where it just doesn't seem real. I didn't feel bad. I'd had no symptoms that I'd heard of from other people who may have suffered from prostate cancer or whatever, so I didn't really know what to feel. I was fit. I was running three times a week, swimming three times a week. There was nothing untoward in my life that seemed to indicate that there was something going on. And then suddenly, I was confronted by the fact that I could have cancer. So the next step, obviously, was to face up, square up to this beast, and deal with it.
My mother had breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with when I was eight. Quite serious breast cancer, which had found it way into her lymphatics. And I went through the journey with her when she had her ovaries taken out as well, because she was becoming menopausal. And so I'd lived with cancer since I was eight. It became a standing joke. And again, that partly informed me to treat mine with a significant amount of disdain anyway, because that's all it deserves at the very most. And so that part of my mindset is all about how I'm going to approach this.
That's where the journey starts, isn't it? I went in to see a consultant whose surname was the same as mine: Hall. And we had a very nice chat in a hospital in Portsmouth in southern England, which is one of the top prostate cancer hospitals in the UK, which was just happenstance, but thank God it was. And I met him and a colleague of his, and within about five minutes we went straight down to business and I was probed. And they came back saying, "Well, there may be something going on, but we'll have to check with that. So we're going to test you for that, and then we're going to send you off for a series of scans."
I was stuck in a tube and given a sort of full scan, ultrasound scan, to assess... to see where it was, whether it had moved anywhere else or anything like that. There are two things about this evaluation that strike me. One of which is the time it takes to get the results from that. And that is the biggest killer in all of this, in the whole process, is the time spent wondering what if or what if not, or just wondering what's going on.
There's one bit. The other bit which is the most satisfying element of it is that a friend of mine who was a senior nurse in a London hospital said, "You do realize that under the National Health Service in the UK that every single person who will be with you on this journey from the new student nurse through the surgeon and every point in between, they will sit down and they'll discuss your particular scenario. And they won't stop discussing your particular scenario until such a time they're satisfied with what the next step's going to be." It was comforting to have to know that there was this degree of care that was going on to ensure that I was going to get the best possible scenario or outcome from this.
COVID had kicked in which meant that we couldn't have face-to-face consultations with the teams. So But he gave me the possible outcome scenarios. He said, "This is what you need to read up on." And there were four options given to me, which I remember there was radiotherapy, chemotherapy, there was brachial buds to put inside you, and there was the operation with the Da Vinci Machine.
So those were the four things, and I was really sent away to go and investigate which I thought would be the best for me. Quite lucky that I've got a very good sort of network of friends both in London and on the south coast. And I inquired of people who I know who are in the medical profession. I did some research online. What I didn't do and what I have never done is go online to chat rooms to discuss my cancer outcome. Because if I was to do that, I would just give up and go and lie in a corner and die. So I was very much about getting the absolute perfection in terms of clinical outcomes of professionalism and the input and advice and so on. The Macmillan nurses were very good in this instance as well.
And I was given all the information which I read up on, read up on with my wife. And the radio and chemo were an obvious solution, but it was deemed to be not a good one, because if we didn't quite get it right the first time around, then we had to go into an operation because of the way the chemo radio works, the degradation of my sort of cell structures would take longer to do that. The brachial buds were a complete no starter, because my girls at that point were nine years old. I've twin daughters. Nine-year-old twin daughters. And to be effectively radioactive for quite a period of time, which they wouldn't be therefore allowed to go near me was just not an issue. Not an option at all.
So I was drawn towards the operation. I thought, "Well, you know what? This seems to be the good thing." One of the few things I did was to maintain my sort of ongoing fitness. To me, getting up at six o'clock in the morning going for swim was great anyway, but to do it with an even stronger purpose was so much better. Because every time I was doing it... not the forefront of my mind, but every time I did it, I'm thinking, "This is getting one step closer to getting rid of this bloody cancer." And so I was mentally preparing myself for the inevitable as to what was going happen. To this point, I was getting myself prepared as best as is possible to go through an operation where the outcomes were if it were good, there would still be some very interesting life-changing scenarios, which I'd find myself in.
Lying flat on your back with your leg in stirrups and having your prostate nibbled away by a nurse who's been so apologetic about it. They try to anesthetize you as best they can, but still it doesn't work. So I'm sort lying there thinking, "Well, how do I make her job bit easier?" So I said, "Of course you girls go through this all the time." She said, "Oh yes, we have smear tests. You men need to know more about these things." And I said, "Well, maybe we need to publicize just a bit more," as she was piling yet more instruments inside me to pull out yet more bits.
And I came out of that. And there was a side effect from that [surgery], which I was not expecting, but I had been told about, which was there would be bleeding. That bleeding would manifest itself in my urine and in my semen. And so I had to come to terms that. Luckily, my advertising friend, who can be equal as base as I could be, we had a very good discussion and a laugh about the after effects of this particular situation. Because it's quite frightening when you have a pee and it's bright red or when you orgasm and your orgasm being blood, basically. Very peculiar. But if you're prepared for it and you are mentally attuned to actually be able to deal with it, then you deal with it.
Over half of my prostate had cancerous cells, which helped to define how they were going to go about the operation with me. And so I realized everything they were doing was to sort of get to the best possible scenario armed with as much information as possible to go and do the procedure. And I think I was partly gladdened by this, because one of the conversations I had was that this cancer is a slow-growing and very localized cancer. And if you get it at an early enough stage, that's great. It won't spread elsewhere. If it does start trickling into you lymphatics and stuff, then it can get a bit more troublesome.
So, with all of that information from my background, my history, from the doctors, from consultants, from everybody, the nurses, the people I know, the people that engineered the whole thing, I knew that get me get the summer out of the way and get myself down to hospital in the autumn to have it done... the winter to have it done.