The effects of my prostate cancer treatment
Peter Hulm is married with a daughter. In 2007 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and treated with a combination of hormone injections and radiotherapy.
In 2003 I was found to have an enlarged prostate. Following an operation (a TURP) to sort the problem, the doctors decided to keep an eye on me. I had regular PSA tests and although the results were not high, they started to increase rapidly, so I had a needle biopsy. This showed cancer. I really can’t remember much of the consultation when the doctor broke the news. I went back to my car and cried my eyes out. I was just so frightened.
The doctor asked to see me again, this time with my wife. We went through all the different treatment options from surgery to watchful waiting. I asked if I needed to cancel the holiday we were due to go on, but the doctor explained there was no immediate rush. My cancer was slow growing, so I had time to think over what we had discussed.
I am a self-confessed computer nerd, so I got on with surfing the net and reading everything I could about the different treatments. I also read the book ‘Prostate cancer for Dummies’ which I highly recommend.
Having done my research and spoken to friends who had been through the same treatment, I opted to have radiotherapy and hormone therapy. I had 37 sessions of radiotherapy and started a 9 month course of hormone treatment. I was warned about the side effects of the radiotherapy before I started treatment, but to be honest the most demanding part was having the discipline to turn up at the hospital, Monday to Friday for 7 weeks. I asked for the 8am treatment slot, but even then my routine was often affected and I had to plan around my hospital visits.
Luckily I had no ill effects from the radiotherapy at all during my treatment. This was not the case with hormone therapy. My monthly Zoladex injections gave me hot flushes and I also became very emotional, crying at the slightest thing.
I developed some symptoms 4 to 6 months after my radiotherapy finished. They seemed like Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I had frequent, loose stools (faeces) and found if I ate certain foods, I could guarantee a dash for the toilet.
I went back to see the doctors at the hospital. Although they had warned me that the radiotherapy could affect my bowels, even they seemed surprised by the severity of my symptoms so long after my treatment had finished. Samples of my stool were sent off to make sure my symptoms were not caused by bowel cancer. I am also due to have a colonoscopy this September. But the doctors are pretty convinced my problems are related to extensive damage of my bowel.
Managing my symptoms
Through keeping a diary and a large degree of trial and error, I am now able to manage my bowels effectively. Along the way I have suffered the indignity of incontinence - a deeply unpleasant experience. Each episode would be so upsetting I would virtually stop eating for a week. I was grateful for the patience and understanding of my wife during these low times.
I now know the foods that will affect my bowels negatively. These are mainly acidic or vinegary foods, soft fruits and many vegetables, even certain soups, such as minestrone. Red wine is also off my menu but white wine is ok.
As well as altering my diet, I take Fybogel 3 times a day, about 30 minutes after a meal. This was a tip from another patient. Although it is usually recommended for people who are constipated, I find it makes my stools more solid.
I always plan ahead when I travel and if I am going on a long journey I will often restrict my diet for about 24 hours beforehand. We’re off on holiday again in a couple of weeks and I know there will be no aeroplane meals for me!
The doctors say I am an extreme case and most people will not be as badly affected. They have also warned that the damage is likely to be permanent and I will have to live with my bowel problems. On a positive note my PSA readings are immeasurable so, despite the radiotherapy damage, I am cancer free for now.
My advice to other men
From my experience, I would say talk to your GP and cancer specialist regularly if you have any problems that you think are related to your cancer treatment. Don’t be afraid to tell your family. You will need their help and support. Contact others with the same problem and talk to them. Use CancerHelp UK and CancerChat. Above all, if you have a partner, share everything with them. You will need them to get you through the bad bits.
- Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK
- 1 in 4 of all new cases of cancer diagnosed in men are prostate cancer
- Almost 60% (or 3 in 5) of prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men aged over 70 years
- Around 7 out of 10 newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients live longer than 5 years. In the 1970s it was only 3 out of 10
- Treatment options depend on the stage of the cancer and include, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and surgery
On CancerHelp UK there is more information about
- Stomach or pelvic radiotherapy: side effects
- Radiotherapy for prostate cancer
- Hormone therapy for prostate cancer
Sharing your story
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