The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
yet is their strength labor and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
(Psalm 90v10, KJV)
Three score years and ten… Or in contemporary street slang, seventy years. According to the words of an ancient prayer, those are “the days of our years.”
I recently passed a symbolic milestone: my 35th birthday. Psalm 90 suggests I’m halfway through the days of my years. The proverbial bus could kill me tomorrow of course; and perhaps “reason of strength” will prolong my years. But I can’t deny the milestone causes a little reflection.
British life expectancy is 79.4, almost four score years. But most of the world’s population will not live to 70. The global average life expectancy is just 67.2. In Swaziland, it’s just 39.6. If I was born there, I might now be in the twilight of my years.
My father was diagnosed with an aggressive prostate cancer earlier this year. Without asking his consultant, he was told rather bluntly he had about four years to live. He is 65, 30 years but a day older than me. He was preparing to enjoy his twilight years: scaling back his work, sailing, playing music and enjoying more time with his family, including a young grandson.
But my father’s fate feels imminent. It looms on the near horizon for him, my mother and the rest of those close to him. He doesn’t want to leave us, and we don’t want to lose him. Life is short. We must all face our own mortality; but it is a tough blow, at any age, to learn your remaining years are numbered on the fingers of just one hand.
Perhaps the prognosis is wrong. The celebrated case is that of the freed Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi: still alive two years after a medical prognosis of three months. But he will die with terminal cancer and my father will too. Despite our prayers, it will almost certainly kill him.
Cancer of the prostate is the most common cancer in men. One in nine men will be diagnosed with this cancer at some point in their lives. In 2008, 37,051 new cases were diagnosed and 10,168 men died from it. Incidentally, lung cancer affects fewer men, but kills many more.
Most victims survive prostate cancer. Indeed it poses no significant threat to most of the men it affects. Others are treated successfully, but a quarter cannot be cured.
Prostate cancer is much more likely to strike older men, especially after the age of 45. Those whose brother or father are affected are twice as likely as others to develop the cancer themselves. Other risk factors include obesity, low levels of vitamin D, high alcohol intake, and elevated blood levels of testosterone.
Because of the familial risk factor, in a few years time, I must decide whether to be tested for potential prostate cancer.
Currently, the primary early test is the prostate specific antigen blood test. But the PSA test is controversial. The NHS insists doctors discuss the pros and cons with any patient prior to testing. The PSA test is unreliable and risky. It sometimes fails to reveal cancer, it sometimes suggests the presence of cancer when there is none and it sometimes reveals harmless cancers, which may lead to unnecessary and perhaps even counterproductive treatment.
Due to the risks, there is no prostate cancer screening programme in the UK. But there are obvious risks too, in not testing. Early treatment is normally more successful, and that is only possible when a cancer is known.
A new urine test for the engrailed-2 (EN2) protein may offer fresh hope. Possibly as easy as a pregnancy test, scientists at the University of Surrey believe it is twice as effective as the PSA test. Pending wider trials, and cautious voices, the EN2 method could be available in a year’s time.
However, a biopsy is the only test which can fully confirm a prostate cancer diagnosis.
I want to promote the fight against prostate cancer and help raise funds to fight it. I will cultivate a moustache throughout the month of November to be a living embodiment of the ‘Movember’ cause.
During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces in the UK and around the world. The aim of which is to raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men.
I will shave my upper lip for the last time on the evening of 31st October; and then not again until 1st December. As an introvert, I am a little nervous about walking the streets of Geneva with a baby mo. But it will be a worthy endeavour… I promise!
Please visit my Movember page and give a little spare change.
Your donation will go to a good cause. One of the beneficiaries is the Prostate Cancer Charity. Its Movember programmes include the following:
- Specialist Cancer Nurses on a dedicated Helpline
- 14 research projects
- A Prostate Cancer Master Class for health professionals
- Funds for Men’s Health Materials
- A Community of Champions for the high-risk African Caribbean community
Survivorship and Support ‘Couples’ project
Prostate cancer remains relatively low in public consciousness. I feel it needs the attention, and the issue certainly needs resources.
Just click here to donate!