Coping with stress and anxiety during prostate cancer treatment

“As someone with an anxious personality type, I know there are parts of the experience which reflect my personality rather than a general experience of prostate cancer. But I hope to use my experience to help others, particularly through the early stages, when they are going through many tests and coming to terms with the diagnosis.”
Gavin Davies (left) pictured with his father

Gavin Davies, aged 46, from Sutton Coldfield, describes his experience of prostate cancer and the stress and anxiety the disease brings.

“My father had prostate cancer and funnily enough, Mr Doherty also operated on him, although not for his prostate cancer. He later developed kidney cancer, with the affected area being close to one of the main arteries to the heart. The operation was high risk and Mr Doherty was the only surgeon prepared to carry it out. It was successful and gave my father another three years of life.

“Dad was about 60 when he developed prostate cancer, my Mum died from cancer also; I always assumed it was likely to affect me at some stage. When I was 40, I went to see my GP because I had pain in my prostate area. I asked about having the PSA test but the GP said flatly – no, I was too young for it. Even when I told him about my family history, I was still discouraged from having the test. So I felt reassured and the pain went away and ceased for several years.

“In January 2012, by the age of 46, the pain in my prostate had returned and was excruciating. I was then offered a PSA test, which produced a very high reading of 22. A biopsy confirmed I had prostate cancer on the lower quadrant on the right side of my prostate. We will never know, for certain, whether my PSA reading was so high because of the prostate cancer, or because at the time I also had a prostate infection (prostatitis). Mr Doherty did say, however, he wished he had been able to see me two years earlier.

“I have suffered with anxiety since the age of 18. In many ways, I was prepared for being diagnosed with cancer and coped with the fact that I was not offered a PSA test earlier. But there were parts of the assessment and treatment process which I found very difficult. I remember when I went for a bone scan at my local NHS hospital, I told the nurse that I was anxious about going into the scanner. But this wasn’t passed on and when we entered the room where the scan was taking place, a different nurse said to my wife: “We will be quite some time, so do you want to go and get a coffee?” It immediately sent me into a panic about being in the scanner for a long time.

“By contrast, when I was having a cystoscopy, Mr Doherty simply said to me: “You won’t like it, but it will be over quickly.” I found his confidence reassuring and also his honest approach – I knew what to expect.

“I had my prostatectomy in August 2011. It might seem surprising but the thing I found hardest was being on my own in a single room after surgery. I don’t like being on my own and it was particularly difficult being hooked up to various wires and drips, isolated and unable to get up and see people. Although my wife could visit, she couldn’t stay overnight and that might be a simple thing which is really helpful for some patients which could be facilitated. I was in hospital for four nights and hardly slept at all. The nurses were great; it was just a very challenging experience for me.

“Mr Doherty told me he was able to do very good quality nerve-sparing on the left side of my prostate but it would have been too high risk to do the same on the right. But I also learnt that there was no evidence of any breach of cancer cells out beyond the prostate.

“On reflection, although there are many good patient support groups, people tend to find out about them and join after surgery. But I think the time patients could do with the support is during the assessment process and before surgery. There are many tests you need to have, a lot of uncertainty and information to take in.

“I thought Mr Doherty was very good from a managing anxiety point of view and that’s mainly because of the way he discloses information. He quickly assessed how much information I wanted – what I needed to know and what would only make me more anxious. He was always straightforward.

“There are simple things which I think would be good for other patients to know. I would have liked to know more about how to self-administer the anti-deep vein thrombosis medical in my stomach. Also, I found it very difficult to sit down comfortably on any of my chairs, but bought a reclining chair which was much better.

“My PSA is now 0.09 so everything is looking good. Obviously, a PSA of 22 is not good but it is impossible to know whether that was due to infection or prostate cancer. That is one of the uncertainties around the disease which you have to live with.

“As someone with an anxious personality type, I know there are parts of the experience which reflect my personality rather than a general experience of prostate cancer. But I hope to use my experience to help others, particularly through the early stages, when they are going through many tests and coming to terms with the diagnosis.”