"We need to talk about prostate cancer"
Greg Hyatt doesn't waste time. As Nuffield Health's Chief Financial Officer, he's used to being frank. His experience with cancer has only reinforced that. So it's no surprise that almost immediately after meeting, he calls me out on an all too common cancer faux pas.
"Why did you call me a survivor?" he asks, leaning forward in his chair. "I'm not a survivor, I had an issue and I dealt with it."
He's referring to an email I sent two days earlier, asking him to meet with me and tell his prostate cancer story. As I begin to back-pedal he continues, "I've not been through the type of experience others have gone through, I wasn't close to dying. 'Survivor' is a term too dramatic for me".
For Greg, prostate cancer was a hurdle that at first appeared overwhelming but in the end, was cleared with little fuss.
“For some men, the testicular and prostate examinations are the first hurdle. But it's not something anyone should be concerned with. It's quick, not very uncomfortable and something men of a certain age should get used to.”
His story begins like most others, with the discovery of a lump. In Greg's case - two lumps. As a Nuffield Health employee, Greg is entitled to a health assessment every year, but like many men - he didn't always make time for his health.
"It was my first health assessment in two years. Even then my reasons were more to stay up to date with Nuffield Health products than my own health," he admits.
"For some men, the testicular and prostate examinations are the first hurdle. But it's not something anyone should be concerned with. It's quick, not very uncomfortable and something men of a certain age should get used to. I'm ashamed to admit it but I have a phobia of needles. Blood tests are what worry me."
The assessment revealed he had a lump on one of his testicles and another on his prostate.
"I didn't give the prostate lump another thought, I was under 50-years-old. But alarm bells started ringing about testicular cancer," says Greg.
“The problem is cancer happens in such sensitive areas of the body. If we got cancer of the elbow things might be different and blokes might talk.”
He was referred to a Consultant at Nuffield Health Guildford Hospital, where a testicular ultrasound proved the lump to be a false alarm - but a follow up rectal exam didn't rule out a prostate problem.
"That floored me a little. As soon as I had the all-clear on the testicular lump, I thought I'd dodged a bullet. I never considered the rectal exam wouldn't go the same way."
To investigate further, Greg was booked in for an MRI scan at Nuffield Health Guildford Hospital. He was becoming increasingly concerned that he'd made it to this stage, but at the same time he couldn't help being in awe of the impressive technology.
"I'd never had an MRI before. It was a fascinating experience. I almost forgot why I was there and just marvelled at the machinery," he says.
When the scan was done, the radiologist asked if Greg had booked another meeting soon with his Consultant. "My heart sank. I knew that meant there was an issue - but still, no one could tell me it was cancer yet," says Greg.
The next step was to take a biopsy from his prostate. A process that involved Greg's principle fear - a large needle. But at this stage, there was no way he could ignore the problem. Within two weeks Greg had his result.
At just 49, Greg suddenly had a diagnosis of prostate cancer. A disease he never expected to encounter at such a young age. But he'd caught it early enough that it hadn't spread beyond his prostate.
"I was just numb. I remember driving through the centre of Guildford in a daze. A call came through on my hands-free and I answered it on auto-pilot. It was David Mobbs, the Chief Executive of Nuffield Health, my boss. I didn't even hear what he was saying, I just cut him off and said: 'David, I don't want to talk right now. I've just got the results. I'm going home.'"
Once there, Greg broke the news to his wife. "It was so matter-of-fact. I didn't know much about prostate cancer and neither did she. We had nowhere to begin that conversation but we did crack a few jokes; it broke the tension."
Greg shifted into fix mode. He took to the internet, reading anything he could find on prostate cancer, trying to take back control. That was enough to hold his concerns at bay until the Consultant followed up a few days later.
Greg was told the cancer was potentially slow growing and contained within the prostate. Because he'd discovered the lump early, he now had three options:
- Do nothing now and monitor its growth. It was likely to be slow growing and a long way from being a real risk to Greg's life.
- Remove the prostate. The cancer was contained and removal would likely prevent it's spread to other parts of the body.
- Brachytherapy. An advanced radiotherapy treatment that targets tumours whilst limiting exposure of healthy cells to the radiotherapy.
"It was really reassuring to know I had time and I had options. From there, it was just a matter of dealing with the task at hand," he says.
But Greg didn't need any more time. He knew what he wanted to do.
“I feel a responsibility to talk about it with men my age. If one person gets checked because they know my story then I'm happy.”
"To do nothing was not an option. It would have always been there hanging over me, perhaps right into old age. I didn't want to have my prostate removed if I could avoid it. It's a big operation to go through and it has been linked to erectile dysfunction. At my age I didn't want issues like that. Brachytherapy presented an option to deal with it quickly and easily and without a need for major surgery."
Brachytherapy involves 3D mapping the prostate and inserting radioactive metal pellets around it to target the cancerous cells. Greg lived as normal while the radiotherapy worked away. After 9 months, the radioactivity of the pellets died off and his treatment was on the road to being over.
"It really was that simple. That's why 'survivor' is too much. That's why men need to talk about prostate cancer," says Greg.
"It wasn't until I got diagnosed that my father told me he'd had prostate issues. If I'd known that, maybe prostate cancer wouldn't have caught me off guard like it did. Why don't families talk?
"The problem is cancer happens in such sensitive areas of the body. If we got cancer of the elbow things might be different and blokes might talk.
"I don't often bring it up but I certainly don't shy away from talking about prostate cancer now. I feel a responsibility to talk about it with men my age. If one person gets checked because they know my story then I'm happy.
"That's why I'm here," he tells me sitting back in his chair. "Life's too short not to deal with your problems and get on with enjoying it."
Four years down the track tests show no sign of Greg's prostate cancer returning. And he's enjoying life to the full.
"I bought myself a Caterham sports car for my 50th birthday and built it over a year. I'm now in my third year as an amateur race car driver in a club with 40 other novices. I've worked hard and cancer made me realise I hadn't spent enough time doing the things I enjoy. I've fixed that now."
Last updated Thursday 5 October 2017
First published on Monday 9 November 2015