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International Mens Day: Living with prostate cancer - Pauls story

“When people heard that I’d got prostate cancer, some stopped calling me or talking to me. They just didn’t know what to say,” says Paul Burder, Watch Manager at Braintree Fire Station.

“When they eventually did, they would ask ‘how are you?’… I’d say: ‘…well, I’ve still got cancer!’ You have to make light of it.”

Last Christmas, Paul began suffering from back pain. Convinced it was related to the amount of work he’d been doing for his carpentry and joinery business, he assured himself that resting up during the festive period would be the best remedy.

Except it wasn’t – and in the new year the pain got worse. And so, to mark International Men’s Day on Tuesday 19 November, Paul has bravely shared his story of living with prostate cancer…

Agony

“One night, I was in agony. I’d never known pain like it and had to call out an emergency doctor, who prescribed some strong pain relief,” Paul remembers. “My GP initially suggested the pain was stress-related. That seemed strange to me, but I trusted his opinion and began to think about changes I could make to my lifestyle.”

Paul also had numbness in his lower right jaw and while working at a local dentist’s, he asked for some advice.

“The dentist told me to get it looked at. I had some x-rays taken and before I knew it, I had a call telling me that I needed to go to Broomfield Hospital. They had found a lesion in my jaw.”

Then, after more tests, came the most horrendous news.

“Within four weeks I’d had an MRI, CT and bone scan – and on 1 April I was told that I’d got advanced prostate cancer, which has spread to my bones.”

Crushing blow

The news came as a crushing blow. Not only to Paul, who had been promoted to Watch Manager in February, but also to his family.

“I’d lost lots of weight and I wasn’t in a good place. I didn’t want to leave the house – it hit my family very hard, particularly my two youngest daughters, then aged 14 and 16.

“We explained everything to all four children from the start. It’s important to talk about cancer and how each of us is feeling so we can support each other – it’s something we all have to live with now.”

Paul immediately began hormone treatment, which will continue for the rest of his life, before six cycles of chemotherapy to tackle the cancer over a period of four months – something that left him incredibly tired on a regular basis.

“I’ve continued with my Watch Manager duties but had to be taken ‘off of the run’, so I’ve been non-operational for a few months now.”

“Watching your crew go out without you has been very hard to take because I’ve been an on-call firefighter for 35 years. However, I’m hopeful that I will be fit enough to return to active service before Christmas.

“The cancer has already spread, so it isn’t curable, but it is treatable. It was really hard for me to get my head around initially and once I’d finished the chemotherapy, I wasn’t sure what would happen next.

“Psychologically I have my ups and downs, but it is really important to stay positive.”

‘No real symptoms’

“People often still think that if they have cancer a lump will appear somewhere and it will become obvious. That’s just not the case,” says Paul. “There aren’t many symptoms of prostate cancer, but one is an increased need to go to the toilet in the night. Of course, as an on-call firefighter, I’ve been getting up and down overnight for years getting called to incidents, so I thought nothing of it.

“My advice is clear: if you are a man over 50 then you should consider regular prostate checks.

“No-one likes the idea of a physical examination, but it can be as simple as having a blood test. Just ask your GP for a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. If prostate cancer is caught in its early stages it can be cured.”

“Please, go and get yourself checked – you won’t regret it.”

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