‘Hey mate, what’s that tattoo for?’
I was in a hotel with my wife, Shawleen, when a man standing with some friends pointed to the blue ribbon inked on my arm.
‘It’s for prostate cancer, isn’t it?’ he asked.
I nodded, then laughed. ‘I’ll tell you about it if you make a donation to the charity,’ I offered jokingly.
To my surprise, they immediately handed over £16 and so indeed, I told them about what I’d been through.
It was January 2019 when I noticed I was going to the bathroom during the night more frequently. I was 59 at the time, so I just put it down to getting older.
But my wife suspected it was a urine infection and urged me to go to the doctor. I put off making an appointment for a few months as I dismissed the symptom, thinking it couldn’t be anything serious.
Looking back, I realise how silly that was.
The doctor checked my prostate and referred me to a urologist due to my age. I had a scan but not much was showing up, so I went for a biopsy.
At the end of April, I was called back to the doctor’s office for the results. When the GP said I had prostate cancer, it felt like he began talking in slow motion.
It was funny though, I didn’t have any feelings of dread and I wasn’t even that shocked – I just knew I needed to fight it.
‘This isn’t going to get me,’ I told my wife on our way home. My daughter was planning her wedding and I was determined I’d be there.
‘There are two options of chemotherapy, or you could have the prostate removed,’ my consultant told me. I wanted it out, thinking it was better to be safe than sorry.
Even when they warned me of the risks of erectile dysfunction and incontinence, I still wanted to go ahead.
Actually, the scariest part was getting a bone scan to see whether the cancer had spread. If it had, it would be much harder to fight. Thankfully, a nurse called me a few days later to reassure me that it hadn’t, and my operation was booked in for 26 June 2019.
During the five hour-long keyhole surgery, a surgeon-controlled robot removed my prostate and the surrounding tissue. I can’t deny I was sore when I came around but I was so determined to get better, I was up and about the next day.
My wife took a month off work to help with my recovery and, as a phlebotomist, she was the perfect person to give me all my injections and change my catheters and surgical socks, while I focused on resting. She was and continues to be an incredible support.
Although I have suffered from incontinence as a side effect of the surgery, as the doctors warned me, I actually felt guilty because it was as though I had sailed through my cancer journey. I know not everybody is so lucky.
After three clear Prostate Health (PSA) blood tests, I was given the all-clear in the spring of 2021.
That was why I decided to get my tattoo of the blue ribbon to represent the type of cancer I had – I wanted to commemorate my journey and all I’d been through.
This was the first tattoo I had ever had done and I consider it a badge of honour for beating cancer.
I first had the idea to get a tattoo as soon as I was diagnosed with cancer. It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but knowing I would survive it, I wanted to do something to commemorate that.
I always knew I wanted the ribbon to represent the type of cancer I had, as well as the charity logo, and the word survivor – the tattoo artist helped bring my ideas to life.
I booked the appointment in October last year and the process was quite painless. The artist said she had never seen anyone sit so still throughout a two-hour appointment.
As she drew out the outline and started shading, we talked about my experience of cancer and what I wanted to achieve by getting this tattoo.
She said she was so proud to be involved and donated my first £1.
But my ink wasn’t just a celebration – I always knew I wanted it to have a purpose; to be a conversation-starter and a way to normalise talking about cancer – especially among men.
And when the group of guys asked me about it on holiday, I knew it had done just that.
Since then, my tattoo has sparked various conversations, encouraging men to pay attention to early symptoms of cancer and not to be worried or embarrassed about visiting their GP with any concerns. I have currently raised around £250, which I plan to donate to charity – my goal is to eventually raise £1,000.
Know the symptoms
As part of the ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign, NHS England is encouraging anyone who has had tummy troubles such as discomfort or diarrhoea for three weeks or more, or seen blood in their pee – even just once, to contact their GP practice.
Persistent tummy troubles can be a sign of a number of cancers, including bowel, ovarian or pancreatic cancer, and blood in pee – even just once, can be a sign of urological cancers, including bladder or kidney cancer.
While it’s probably nothing serious, any of these symptoms could be a sign of something that needs treatment. If it is cancer, finding it early makes it more treatable and can save lives.
Visit nhs.uk/cancersymptoms for more information.
One time in a pub in Dublin, I overheard a group of guys chatting about a friend who had been diagnosed with cancer. So, I went over with my beer and asked them about it.
I told them he’s not alone and showed them my tattoo – I took them through my cancer journey and was able to reassure them about their friend. They thanked me by buying me a drink and said they would pass the message on to their mate.
My 60th birthday party was a fundraiser, and I asked my friends to donate prizes for a raffle. All the money raised would be donated to charity – it was a huge success.
I am now proud to be supporting the NHS’ ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign, aiming to raise awareness of early signs of cancer and encouraging the public to visit their GP with any concerns.
My message to other men is – please keep an eye on your body and if you’re unsure about anything, get it checked with your GP. It’s probably not cancer, but it’s always better to get checked out.
The chances of developing it are higher for certain men, like those over 50 and with family history, so I’d encourage everyone to check their risk with Prostate Cancer UK’s online risk checker.
The checker can assess your risk in three questions, which only takes around 30 seconds to complete. It can help catch cancer early, which can increase the chances of successful treatment.
As for me, I’ve got a surgery coming up to help with the incontinence side-effects. I’m looking forward to going out and about and to the gym with confidence.
Cancer can be hard to talk about for some people, but my tattoo has helped that; the more we chat, the more we normalise the conversation.
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