Prostate cancer: reaching out

‘One in four black men gets prostate cancer in the UK… I’m determined to get people talking about this disease.’

Thomas Kagezi & Errol McKellar at Prostate Cancer event

Thomas is a civil engineer from Huddersfield, originally from Uganda. On 2 September 2016 his job took him to Hoxton Overground in Hackney, London. What followed has changed his life forever …

‘As a civil engineer my job takes me all over London – it’s one of the reasons I love my job so much. In September last year I found myself in the East End, checking the signposting at Hoxton station.

I hadn’t been there long before I was startled by a man waving a leaflet in my face. He was telling me about prostate cancer and asking whether I’d ever been checked for the disease.

That man was Errol McKellar – a local mechanic who has been working in Hackney for over 20 years. At first I didn’t take much notice, but Errol didn’t give up and continued to tell me that he had been diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer six years earlier. He told me that one in four black men gets prostate cancer in the UK – double the one in eight risk faced by white men. He asked my age and said that I should really think about speaking to my doctor about my potential risk.

I still didn’t take much notice of Errol but I agreed to take a few leaflets – mainly to keep him quiet!

I continued with my day as normal and it wasn’t until much later the same evening that I actually looked at the leaflet. I noticed that urinary problems were one of the symptoms of prostate cancer. I’m an incredibly fit and healthy man – I exercise most days and eat a healthy diet.

However, over recent years I have noticed a need to urinate more often. I’ve always put this down to the fact that I drink a lot of water and it wasn’t until I read the leaflet that I thought it might be something more sinister.

I decided to book an appointment with my GP for peace of mind. At first he was reluctant to give me a blood test as he didn’t think I needed one – I really had to push for it. I was therefore incredibly surprised three days later to hear that my PSA reading (prostate-specific antigen – a high level can mean you have a problem with your prostate) was slightly too high for a man of my age. I was referred to the hospital for a biopsy, but I didn’t feel too worried – I was confident that I would be OK.

However, on 27 October 2016 I received the devastating news that I had prostate cancer.

I couldn’t believe it. How could someone so fit – a regular cyclist, runner and triathlete – be living with such a serious disease? It didn’t make sense and I found it very hard to process the news.

I have a wife and two young children and so my thoughts quickly turned to them and I became incredibly worried and distressed about the future. I couldn’t stop thinking about death, asking myself “Why me? Am I going to die? Will I see my kids get married?”

As a family, we’ve struggled to come to terms with my diagnosis – especially my wife – but things are slowly improving. After further investigation, I found out that the cancer is still contained within the pelvic region and I was immediately placed on hormone therapy, which I’m still receiving today. I also had four and a half weeks of radiotherapy. Although I’m still undergoing treatment, my PSA reading has dropped significantly and I’m feeling very positive about the future.

Within the African community the word ‘cancer’ and in particular ‘prostate cancer’ is still a massive taboo. If you’re diagnosed, you keep it to yourself.

My father died two years ago. At the time my stepmother said that he had died of ‘complications’ but I now wonder whether he too had been living with prostate cancer. I’m determined to go back to Uganda to find out.

For a long time pride has overruled everything in my community but we must stop it overriding our health. If prostate cancer is caught early, it can often be successfully treated.

I’m determined to do everything I can to follow in Errol’s footsteps and get people talking about this disease. Errol saved my life – I now want to pass the message on to help save another man.

If you’re a black man over 45 years old, find the confidence to speak to your doctor about your prostate cancer risk and whether you need to be tested.’

Find out more about prostate cancer

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