‘I was amazed, I thought it was over all over’: My prostate cancer diagnosis

The morning Ray Finnerty arrived for a biopsy at the Express Prostate Clinic in Galway, he found five other men waiting for the same procedure.

The 50-year-old father, who was 47, believes his chances of getting good news are great.

“Looking at the other men, I thought I was the youngest. Yet I ended up being the one with a bit of annoyance,” he says, recalling the moment he was told about a month later when he and his wife, Patricia, were told he had prostate cancer and was violent.

“On a 10 scale, I was 9 on a Gleason scale. I was absolutely stunned. I thought it was all over.”

For Ray – of Foxford, Co Mayo – it was especially shocking because he didn’t have any of the typical symptoms.

“I used to have some stiffness in my legs, but I attributed that to doing a lot of cycling in the summer of 2019. I had no other symptoms, and I had no hesitation about going to the toilet. I have no family history of prostate cancer.”

Leg stiffness brought him to his GP, who checked his PSA levels and found them to be elevated. Another check up three weeks later showed that they went up again a bit. “The GP did an internal exam and found the prostate to be a normal size. She said we could leave it on for another three or four weeks and do another PSA test — or I could see a specialist.

“I went for the second option. I wanted to be on the ball with this.”

That visit with the specialist led Ray to be referred to the Rapid Prostate Clinic. After the devastating news reached him, he underwent a CT scan, MRI and bone scan. He was told that his best option was to have a radical prostatectomy – the complete removal of the prostate gland. He did this in November 2019. He also had some nearby lymph nodes removed.

I spent six nights in the hospital. “I came home with a catheter,” says the father of three teens — Kelly, 19, Oisen, 17, and Lucy, 16. This means keeping an eye on his fluid intake when he’s outside – and at all times knowing where the nearest toilet is.

“In the middle of the lockdown, no one wanted to let you in a restroom,” he says.

The yellow card he received from the Irish Cancer Society, which said he “needs urgent access to the toilet”, was a godsend. “I had to use it on many occasions. Some places have been very good about it. But I have shown it in some stores and younger employees have to ask a supervisor [for permission to let me use the toilet] And half the store knows.”

Ray, a train driver, only recently got back to work. Based on his experience, PSA levels were tested for several of his colleagues. But the experience has been very difficult for his family, who have been so supportive of him, and he is glad they all had to go on a family vacation this summer.

“I have a completely different outlook on life now. Anytime I feel pain or soreness, I wonder.”

His PSA levels are tested every six months and he is feeling well. “But the biggest shocker was the lack of any symptoms – and then the cancer was very aggressive.”

What we need to know

Ove McNamara, Director of Information Development at the Irish Cancer Society, explains what we need to know about prostate cancer:

Dropp off

About 3,890 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in Ireland. One in seven men will be diagnosed with it during their lifetime.

Warning signs

Prostate cancer usually only causes symptoms when it becomes large enough to disturb the bladder or put pressure on the tube that drains urine. These symptoms are called urinary prostate symptoms:

  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Trouble starting or stopping streaming
  • slow flow of urine
  • Pain when urinating.

Less common symptoms include:

  • blood in urine or semen
  • Feeling of incomplete emptying of the bladder

It is important to discuss any of these symptoms with your GP. Remember, there may be other causes for these symptoms, apart from prostate cancer.

What increases the risks?

age: The risks increase with age. It usually affects men over the age of fifty. Nearly two out of every three prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65.

family history: The risks are higher if you have a brother or father who has the disease. It is also higher if your relative developed prostate cancer at a younger age, or if you have more than one relative with the disease. The two genes identified as being at increased risk are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Men with BRCA2 are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer.

not worth anything

Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Often people who do not have risk factors develop the disease. The most important things you can do to reduce your risk are to be at a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet, and be physically active.

It is also important to know your family history. Have a discussion with your doctor about two tests you can take to monitor your prostate. PSA is a type of blood test and DRE is a digital rectal test. Discuss the pros and cons of having these tests with your GP.

  • The Irish Cancer Society has a special card that you can show in stores/other public places for urgent access to the toilet. Get one from the Daffodil Center or by calling the Irish Cancer Society support line at 1800-200700.
  • The Mary Keating Foundation’s fourth annual “Stand up for Prostate” campaign encourages men to be more open about their health and talk to their GP about a PSA test when they’re 50 — or 45 if they have a family history of prostate cancer. visit www.mariekeating.ie. Listen to the organization’s new #TalksProstateCancer podcast series on www.mariekeating.ie/podcast