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How Covid Changed My Prostate Cancer Treatment Plan

HIFU focal therapy patient holding his dog
Michael Anthony, a recent HIFU patient at The Focal Therapy Clinic, had just turned 50 late last year when he was diagnosed with localised prostate cancer – quickly followed by a bout of Covid.
 
 
As he says, “I got cancer for my birthday and Covid for Christmas”, and his ultimate treatment was a direct outcome of these memorable “gifts”.
 
 
He joins OnFocus to tell his story about managing a prostate cancer diagnosis in the Covid era and to share his learnings from this experience with our listeners.
 
 
 
 


Michael Anthony's story

Please find below a written transcript of the interview, and call The Focal Therapy Clinic today to discuss your prostate cancer treatment options: 020-7036-8870.

Clare Delmar

Hello and welcome to OnFocus, brought to you by The Focal Therapy Clinic, where we connect you with issues facing men diagnosed with prostate cancer that are little known, less understood, often avoided, and sometimes ignored. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer are amongst men in the UK, and with this number of facts comes a multitude of challenges and opportunities. 

I’m Clare Delmar and joining me today is Michael Anthony, a recent HIFU patient at The Focal Therapy Clinic. Michael had just turned 50 late last year when he was diagnosed with localised prostate cancer, which was quickly followed by a bout with COVID.

As he says, “I got cancer for my birthday and COVID for Christmas”, and his ultimate treatment was a direct outcome of these memorable gifts. He’s here to tell the story about managing a prostate cancer diagnosis in the COVID era and to share his learnings with our listeners. Michael, welcome. And thanks so much for joining me today.

Michael Anthony

No problem.

Clare Delmar

I’m sort of mentioning how you were bestowed with these slightly unwelcome gifts late last year and particularly at the age of 50, which is incredibly young to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Can you tell us a little bit about how your diagnosis came about?

Michael Anthony

Yeah. I went to the doctors in September. I was 50 in October last year. So I went in September and for something completely unrelated, my wife made me go. And when I was there, because I was 50 in a month’s time and I’m due a prostate check when I turned 50, the doctor starts discussing exactly that – about the fact that I need to have my prostate checked. And before I know it, I’ve kind of agreed to have it done. So yeah, it gets done. I’m told it’s fine. And I leave. I also had a blood test whilst I was there. And then about four or five days later, I got a phone call from a doctor I hadn’t seen, and he told me there was an irregularity with my PSA test on my blood test. They wanted to send me for an MRI.

That meant nothing to me about PSA, but my partner is a nurse. So she came home and I told her it was like, okay, so now I’m off. I’m off for my MRI. I went off for my MRI like, a month later, just after I was 50.  And when I left, they said that my GP would be notified within two to three weeks. And this was on a Thursday. And then I was woken up on Monday morning with a phone call to tell me that there was something on my MRI. And now they wanted to send me for a biopsy. 

So I was then put in for biopsy. That was quite soon after. I can’t remember how soon for, like, a week or two weeks. And then from there I left. On a Thursday. I had my biopsy. And the following Wednesday, I was told on my biopsy. I was told when I was there that the cancer team, they have a meeting every Wednesday, and I would be discussed at the meeting. I said, so what if haven’t got my results and the nurse explained that because you’re in today, you will get discussed whether we’ve got your results or not. So I had a nervous Wednesday waiting for a phone call to tell me whether I did or didn’t have cancer. And the phone call never come on the Wednesday. So we sort of breathed a sigh of relief. And then I got a phone call Thursday morning, to book in a phone call. Because it’s COVID there was no going into hospitals. It was all done over the phone or on the Zoom. So, yeah, this on a Thursday. And then I had a 45 minutes phone call the next day on the Friday, which I think was November 20 last year. And 45 minutes call just to say, yeah, you’ve got prostate cancer.

Clare Delmar

Wow. So all of that was quite speedy from when your original PSA result to the actual biopsy. And then obviously the discussion around, I guess what was in the MDT, correct?

Michael Anthony

Yeah. Very quick. I don’t know if it was because of COVID, that it made everything faster. Like I say, when I went in for my MRI, the hospital was empty. When I went in for my biopsy, the hospital was empty. I went in by myself. I didn’t even realise you could go into these with other people. Not that you particularly would want to, but if you wanted a family member or someone, you could have them. Even when I went in there, it wasn’t that boring hanging about because it was all really kind of quick.

Clare Delmar

Yeah. So then that was the end of November. So it all happened pretty quickly, as you said after your birthday. Fortunately, you had actually had the PSA test, as you said, you had no symptoms or anything. You were just kind of offered the opportunity and you sort of took it up.

Michael Anthony 

Yeah. It was just about to turn 50. And when I turned 50, they would have contacted me and said they wanted me in to check my prostate, to do my bloods and all that. And because I’m not a regular visitor to the doctor, that’s why I think the lady was like, we might as well sort this out now.

Clare Delmar

Right, okay, so you got this diagnosis. Did you understand the diagnosis other than that?

Michael Anthony

Not really. Not really. But my partner’s a nurse. So she understood it far more than me. I mean, she’s nursed people; when she was a district nurse, she nursed people who died of prostate cancer. And she nursed people who lived with prostate cancer. She had an understanding, in a way, but it’s not her specialist subject. And I knew absolutely nothing.

Clare Delmar

Then what happened? Tell us about the COVID and what happened next and about what kind of treatment options were actually offered to you?

Michael Anthony

Well, my treatment options were having on the 45 minutes phone call on the 20 November to tell me that I had cancer. They also told me about my options. And my options then were that I can have a prostatectomy. And she then explained to me about the long term effects after…the after effects of a prostatectomy. My other option was chemotherapy/ radiotherapy. So those are my two options.

Clare Delmar

Did they show you exactly where the cancer was located? For example, from some of the imaging you’d received?

Michael Anthony

No. I just got told that I had prostate cancer.

Clare Delmar 

Okay, so it wasn’t any words like localised or anything like that. It was simply that you had prostate cancer.

Michael Anthony

Yeah.

Clare Delmar

Okay. Did it occur to you to question any of those treatment options, or did it sort of incentivize you to go learn a bit more about what this all meant?

Michael Anthony

Well, I questioned the whole thing because I wasn’t ill. There was nothing wrong with me. So I’ve got professionals telling me that I’ve got prostate cancer and I’m hearing it. But I’m not really feeling it. So it blew me away to be honest. I was blown away for maybe six weeks, really? For six weeks. I just wasn’t really functioning normally. Although I was like, for instance, I couldn’t get this… I forgot about this, but I couldn’t get warm. I was cold all the time, and I actually rang one of my cancer team up on the first time I engaged with them because I wasn’t really engaged with the cancer team. I wasn’t really opening my letters. I opened them at first. And then suddenly, because when you get diagnosed with cancer, you get bombarded with mail like Macmillan and stuff and hospital appointments and just stuff that’s like it’s just a bit too much. It was just a bit too much for me to take on. I couldn’t get warm. So I was sitting in the front room with my thermals on, with the heating on, with clothes on, with my coat on, and I’m still feeling cold. So I rang my cancer team and I asked if that was a symptom. And they said it is with some cancers, but not with prostate cancer. But my partner recognised I was in shock, which is probably right.

Clare Delmar

Yeah. Wow. And so tell us about the COVID. I mean, this begins the interesting part of the story.

Michael Anthony

So then they’ve decided that prostatectomy is the only option. I spoke to a surgeon who was going to perform that. And I spoke to the radiotherapy doctor who was going to do that. And at the end of the conversation, I asked the radiotherapy doctor what they would choose. And they said, you only have one option. And that’s really a prostatectomy, because obviously, at 50, if I had radiotherapy or chemotherapy, there’s a strong chance that it’ll give me cancer by the time I’m 60. So I’m left with just a prostatectomy, which is what I was booked in for on the 21st January.

Clare Delmar

Okay

Michael Anthony

So then at Christmas, I get COVID. And so I’m allowed back out on the 28 December. So I go in for my pre-op, which is a Monday before the Thursday. So about nine days before my prostatectomy, I had my pre op appointment. I went in and at pre-op, they asked you lots of questions about have you had MRSA or this and that? And I told him I’d had COVID over Christmas. And it was the day that Boris had brought in a rule that cancelled all operations on COVID patients or people within 28 days of COVID got their operations cancelled. So I was like the first day of that, and my operation was cancelled. So I left with no cancer plan in place at all.

Clare Delmar

Wow. How did that feel?

Michael Anthony

To be honest, I was elated because they weren’t going to give me a prostatectomy. I didn’t realise that I had no cancer plan in place until I got home and told my partner. And then she obviously wasn’t happy. But for me, I kind of thought, well, so you’re not going to do it. And I think of all the after effects of a prostatectomy, and I think they weren’t going to do that to me. So yeah, I was kind of alright with it for a while.

Clare Delmar

So that had been on your mind, like the side effects that you had been made aware of were actually on your mind the whole time you just hadn’t had an opportunity to really kind of voice them.

Michael Anthony

I got told in a 45 minutes phone call when I was told I had cancer, they told me what a prostatectomy was because I had no idea. And to sum it up in my world, she was saying they’re going to cut some length off the cock. They’re going to make it so they never come again and you’re going to be incontinent and have erectile dysfunction for the rest of your life. Now I know that’s not every prostatectomy patient, but that’s what I heard. That’s what I heard. So maybe that was the six weeks. Maybe that added massively to the six weeks of shock.

Clare Delmar

Of course.

Michael Anthony

I wasn’t really into the idea of having this operation at any point. But I went in for my pre-op on a Monday, and funnily enough, the Saturday before the Monday, I filled an application form in online about whether I was eligible for focal therapy or not having read about it on one of the cancer sites.

Clare Delmar

So let’s just go back to that. How did you actually find out about that? Because you weren’t told about it from your cancer team in the hospital?

Michael Anthony

No. But after six weeks of doing nothing and just doing nothing to do with cancer, I posted a question on a cancer site, and within ten minutes, a guy called Chris had answered it. And it’s quite a personal question. It’s quite a personal answer. And then I kind of spent the whole next 48 hours just reading stuff and asking questions and getting it answered. And in the process of that over the next sort of four weeks, which is between then and when I have my prostatectomy booked, I read a piece where somebody had posted a question. It was about prostatectomy or focal therapy. Once I read that, I then read up more stuff about focal therapy and the side effects, which were compared to prostatectomy, it’s just another world, isn’t it?

Clare Delmar

So then you contacted the clinic and began to explore if you’d be eligible or suitable for that kind of treatment.

Michael Anthony

Yeah, I did that on the Saturday and on the Monday, I went in and my prostatectomy was cancelled. So Monday night I get a phone call from a guy from The Focal Therapy Clinic, and I start talking to him, but he loses me because he’s talking about cancer. So I get my Gaynor on the phone. They have a long conversation, and afterwards they get off the phone and she was like, this is perfect for you. This is absolutely perfect. I was like, okay.

Clare Delmar

And what were the main reasons you decided to undertake this? Is it mainly because of the side effects?

Michael Anthony

100% the side effects.

Clare Delmar

And so then you went and had it with Mr. Nigam, I believe.

Michael Anthony

Brilliant. Yeah.

Clare Delmar

Did you have to have any of your imaging or biopsies redone?

Michael Anthony

I had to have none of them redone. I just had to have them sent from my hospital to him to where he was working. But, yeah, I wanted him to see all the stuff anyway, before I had the consultation, just because of the first conversation with the guy from The Focal Therapy Clinic, I knew he’d ask me stuff that I wouldn’t know the answer because I didn’t really understand it. So I wanted him to see everything. So he saw everything. So when I had my consultation with him, which was the Monday a week after my previous had been cancelled, I had a consultation with him. And my very first question to him was, am I eligible for focal therapy treatment? And he was like, you’re perfect. Your cancer is perfect for focal therapy treatment.

Clare Delmar

So when did you actually undergo the treatment?

Michael Anthony

I think it was the third or fourth of February this year.

Clare Delmar

Okay, so that was… And then you haven’t had the full clearance yet?

Michael Anthony

No.

Clare Delmar

Okay. So how did it all go?

Michael Anthony

I mean, you can’t call it brilliant because it’s not brilliant. But as treatments go… As cancer treatments go, and if this kills my cancer or cures my cancer, I mean, it’s unbelievable. What a prostatectomy would have done to me mentally and what this did, is not even a comparison. I’m back on with my life. Whereas if I had had that it would have just shattered me. I think, mentally I would have been done.

Clare Delmar

And, Michael, do you feel that you mentioned that when you were initially given your diagnosis of prostate cancer, you were counselled – if that’s the right word – on what the potential, if not likely side effects would be of a prostatectomy? In retrospect, and given not just what you’ve experienced, but also what you experienced in your own head, mentally and emotionally, do you think that that discussion was handled well?

Michael Anthony

Yeah. Cancer nurse Kate was brilliant. The whole conversation. It was nothing to do with the way I was treated or the way they came across. Everything was brilliant. What wasn’t brilliant was the fact that focal therapy never got mentioned to me at any point. I had to read up about it and then ask about it. And when I asked about it, they didn’t know anything about it.

Clare Delmar

That’s something that we do see. But you were pretty well informed initially, and so you can’t complain about that?

Michael Anthony

No. I mean, they obviously don’t do focal therapy. So like I say, it wasn’t even an option or mentioned. Whereas, like, my cancer was 85% on the right hand side of my prostate and 1% on the left and millions and millions and millions of men live with 1% on their prostate. And it’s not an issue. It’s not cancer. It’s just there, like your appendix, but not quite. But the 85% on one side means you just deal with that. Why would you put me through all of the stuff you would have put me through when I’ve only got cancer on one side? A lot of cancer admittedly, but it’s still on one side. It’s like… 

Clare Delmar 

Indeed. It’s almost as if having the COVID was kind of what saved you from not having to undergo the radical treatment. Is that how you’d describe it? 

Michael Anthony 

That is exactly how it is. If I hadn’t caught COVID over Christmas, I would have gone into my pre-op. It wouldn’t have been cancelled. So I would have probably got a phone call that night by The Focal Therapy Clinic and not been as engaging because I would have just gone through pre-op that day for an operation that’s happening the following Thursday. And my partner who took the call, I don’t think she would have been into taking that call, because she would have known that your prostatectomy is booked next Thursday Michael. There’s no point having this phone call. It’s all sorted.

Clare Delmar

I think what’s really interesting about your story and your personal experience is that so much of how you take in this information and your sort of readiness to look at the other options is based on how emotionally secure you feel about it. So that’s definitely something I hear from what you went through. Suddenly you are now ready to hear about something else which proved to be the right choice for you.

Michael Anthony

Yeah. I think it’s wrong that I had to read it on a forum on the Internet to find out about it initially in the first place. I mean, there’s not that many different cancer treatments, you know, however many there are. There’s not like thousands or hundreds. It’s not like you need to know a lot to be able to know what’s what in that sort of world. And if my cancer was perfect for focal therapy, in the words of Doctor Nigam, then my hospital should have been telling me that. I should have heard that from somebody else. 

It really guts me that this isn’t everywhere and available. And this could – if I go there in February, and Doctor Nigam says that my cancer is gone and I haven’t got cancer anymore – then this has saved my life.

Clare Delmar

So would you then share that with other men and try to spread the word that if your cancer is localised, or certainly to understand exactly where the cancer is, and to seek second opinions?

Michael Anthony

Oh, yeah. Already, my mum rang me to tell me her friend, Phil, he’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I got him on focal therapy straight away. At least look it up. And also there’s a prostate. I’ve told him to get in touch with them. And there’s so many places you can get information on focal therapy now that I’ve had it, and now that I know a little bit about it. I certainly know where you can look it up. And I directed Phil in that direction, my mum’s friend, and that’s the direction he’s going in, apparently.

Clare Delmar

Well, that’s really helpful. And actually, the whole benefit of doing an interview like this is that we’ll put this out there for other people, too. So, Michael, I really very much appreciate you coming in to talk to me, and I know this will be helpful and really inspiring for other men. So thanks very much.

Michael Anthony

Thanks ever so much. Thank you.

Clare Delmar

A transcript of this interview is available on our website, along with further information on diagnostics and treatments for prostate cancer and additional interviews and stories about living with prostate cancer.

Please visit www.thefocaltherapyclinic.co.uk and follow us on Twitter and Facebook at The Focal Therapy Clinic.

Thanks for listening and for me, Clare Delmar see you next time.

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