A few handfuls of daffodil bulbs had just been planted by David Canning when he made his mind up.
In 2001 and at the age of 55 David was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Almost immediately after learning the news David decided he wanted to opt for radical surgery and on the eve of the operation he visited his daughter in Letterkenny.
“I remember, it was a Sunday in November when I went to visit the daughter. I’d spent a bit of the day planting daffodil bulbs in her garden and afterwards I went back inside for a cup of tea.
“I stood staring out the kitchen window and looked at where I’d been working earlier that day and I swore to myself that I would be here to see those daffodils flower in the Spring - and I did,” smiled David.
Now aged 67 and retired, David speaks openly and honestly about that time 12 years ago. To say that cancer changed David’s life would not be accurate. The Newbuildings man already had the strength of character to stare his illness directly in the eyes and refused point blank to dwell on his situation.
“You couldn’t make it up, the day I found out I had prostate cancer my wife had an appointment for a mammogram at the hospital at the same time.
“After getting the news I had cancer I walked outside and made my way to the car. Strangely, my wife was back in the car - there had been a complication with one of the machines and the hospital rescheduled her appointment. I got into the car and told her straight that I had prostate cancer and I told her that I had decided I was going to go for surgery.
“That was that really - we went home, had a cup of tea and talked about it a bit more. The rest is history as the man says,” said David.
David has recovered from his illness but since 2001 he has attended regular hospital appointments.
It was during one of his routine appointments that he heard from Uro-Oncology Nurse Specialist, Kerry Chambers, that there was a local prostate cancer support group based in the grounds of Altnagelvin.
“If I am honest, I was lucky with how my illness went. I can’t speak highly enough of Dr. Mulholland (Urologist) and his team. Kerry [Chamber] was part of the team and they were all just amazing.
“When Kerry asked me if I would mind attending the prostate cancer support group, I didn’t hesitate at all and thought I would it give it a go.
“She wanted me to talk to men who had been newly diagnosed about my own experience and I have to say that I have been part of this group for a few years now and I have enjoyed every minute of it.”
In 2003 Kerry Chambers and Cancer Focus NI Counsellor, Theresa McSwiney met with a few men who had been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. The men expressed a desire to set-up a support group for men with experience of prostate cancer and the North West Prostate Cancer Support Group was born.
The group have been meeting every two months in Agnes Jones House in the grounds of Altnagelvin for the last ten years.
“Obviously when it comes to something as serious as cancer, medical treatment is paramount but I cannot stress the importance of a support group such as this one,” said Nurse Specialist, Kerry Chambers.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to facilitate this group with Theresa McSwiney. As you would expect with something like cancer there have been plenty of very dark moments in the past but I think everyone would agree with me that we have had plenty of bright and happy moments.
“There are a good few characters in the group and they never let myself or Theresa away with anything,” she smiled.
Kerry has been a specialist nurse for 15 years and has a wealth of experience of treating men with prostate cancer.
“My advice to any man reading this article who might be worried is to go their GP and get themselves checked out. It’s so important that they do this.
“I also recommend the support group to any of the men who come to see me at the hospital. It’s not always going to be every man’s thing but if a person can get something positive out of attending a few support group meetings then that has to be seen as a good thing,” said Kerry.
It wasn’t the prostate cancer diagnosis that impacted upon Foyle Springs man, Tony Carlin, it was the treatment.
Tony was diagnosed with the illness in 2007 when he was 64 years-old and like David, he joined the support group several years ago.
Up until his diagnosis Tony was an active man. When he had time he could be seen cycling around Derry or jaunting off to Donegal for a spate of hill walking. Physical activity was Tony’s passion but one of the side effects to his treatment was acute fatigue.
“I would be running to the toilet in the middle of the night but I just put it down to old age,” smiled Tony.
“I went to the doctors about sore muscles in my leg and he asked me about everything else. I told him about running to the toilet at night and he asked me if I had history of prostate cancer in my family. My older brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years before me so when the doctor heard that he sent me for a few tests.”
Tony was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer and was offered a choice. Along with medical professionals, Tony would monitor the situation or he could opt for radiation and hormone therapy.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer I just put in context. My wife doesn’t keep well and my brother wasn’t well either so compared to them I wasn’t doing too bad.
“However, after my first bout of hormone treatment I started to experience severe fatigue. I was used to getting out and about. I used to cycle and run but then bang, after the hormone treatment I couldn’t do anything at all - that was very tough,” said Tony.
Tony’s older brother is one of the founding members of the North West Prostate Cancer Support Group. On learning of his younger’s brother condition he tried to convince him to attend the support group.
“My brother kept on at me about it but I didn’t think it would be for me but then when one of the nurses said to me about it I thought there must be something to it so I decided to come along. I had been through all of my treatment at this stage and was well on the road to recovery but I decided to give it a go.
“I received my radiation treatment at the City Hospital in Belfast. I spent six weeks living there, from Monday to Friday. It’s not nice having cancer but being in a place where there are people of all ages going through cancer too was beneficial. We had a lot of good craic and I suppose I feel the exact same way about the support group now. It’s not only great to come here and meet with men who have been through or who are going through the same thing but Theresa [McSwiney] and Kerry [Chambers] organise for medical professionals to come to our meetings and talk to us - it’s very educational.
“I really enjoy the support group and some of the other men here are great craic to talk to. It’s not all doom and gloom here but if anyone wants to talk about anything or indeed if they just want to listen, they can. The support group is all about making everyone feel comfortable and relaxed.”
Theresa McSwiney is a counsellor with Cancer Focus NI and is based in Agnes Jones House. Theresa works with anyone who is affected by cancer; be that a patient, a family member or a friend of a person going through treatment. Along with Kerry Chambers, Theresa facilitates the support group.
“I’ve been a cancer counsellor for quite a while and along with Kelly and a few prostate cancer patients we set-up the support group 10 years ago. It really has been a massive success and the help and support the men get out of it is something special.
“Although the men come here for the support group every couple of months they are also entitled to make use of all of the services Cancer Focus NI offer. So if one of the men’s wives were struggling to cope they could come here and talk to me on a one to one and confidential basis,” said Theresa.
It’s clear from the way in which Theresa talks she enjoys her walk and has great compassion for the people she helps. However, like David, Tony and Kerry she stressed how important it is men showing prostate cancer symptoms go and see their GP.
“It’s imperative that people get the help and treatment they need. It’s sometimes difficult to get men to talk about their health but when it comes to something as serious as prostate cancer they should realise that visiting their GP could make a world of difference. If anyone reading this article is worried about prostate cancer or would like to talk to anyone about any kind of cancer they should contact me here at Agnes Jones House - they will always be welcome here,” she smiled.
For more information on the North West Prostate Cancer Support Group contact Theresa McSwiney on 02871 345 121 (Extension: 213353).
Cancer Focus NI is a charity and it can be contacted by telephone on 02890 663 281; by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit its website: www.cancerfocusni.org