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  • Writer's picturechris walsh

age and health - a personal perspective

-As I am now back home after a hernia operation which turned into a more complicated affair than I was told to expect, as result of complications arising from previous radio therapy following my prostate cancer operation 10 years ago I thought it may be helpful to others to share some thoughts.

First I think for most of us older people (I am now in my mid 70s) we are lucky to be living in this epoch of groundbreaking medical advances and also to be living in the West where we can benefit from them and living in countries where health support is available to all regardless of income and wealth. I know that if I had been even 50 years earlier let alone 100 hundred years ago I would be dead by now.

Before making any other general health observations or policy statements I would like to share my personal story a little, especially to my fellow older men who I have found often find it hard to talk about their health and emotions around it, often even refusing to go and get checked up in time.

When I was 65 I had my regular well man check up with the doctor, part of which was a blood test including a PSA test for prostate cancer. My doctor unlike some agreed to this and was not one who said they were pointless, thank goodness.

The finding was mildly worrying as it had reached a reading of 4, which is slightly above the norm, but led to him doing a finger up the bum test, a process which neither he nor I wanted but is necessary. He said there was some hardness around the prostate which should be followed up with a biopsy at the hospital if I wished. Again there was no alarm. About a month later i went for the biopsy ( which involved an instrument being inserted up through the anus and a small clipping taken from the prostate, it was not painful just mildly intrusive and the noise ( like a nail clipper) was more concerning than the sensation. It was then sent off for analysis but again I was told nothing really to concern me and the norml message was relayed that even if it was cancerous more men died with it than from it . (Though later I discovered that around 40,000 new cases are reported every year while at the same time around 10,000 men die from prostate cancer every year). The test results cam back showing that it was more serious than they thought initially and that around half of my prostate was cancerous and I was referred to a specialist at my local East London hospital ( which was very run down and being tarted up under the Public Private partnership scheme, and later was rated as one with a lot of problems). I had by the time I went for my appointment researched the websites of the NHS, Cancer UK and Prostate Cancer UK - which are all reputable, not for profit , mainstream and very very through.

Through this I discovered that UCLH was operating a series of trials over new prostate cancer treatment including where the prostate was only partly cancerous - lazer treatment. At that time late March I think my Gleeson scale reading was 7 ( worrying bu not immediately life threatening .My young consultant was luckily for me a friend of one of the UCLH doctors running the pilot and referred me there. Another month passed and I went for my appointment at UCLH. This was a new building and one of the leading specialist cancer hospitals in the UK and probably Europe. There I was given a scan and the consultant saw me with the results. I was still talking about being a part of the pilot study and there was a place available later in the Summer, but on seeing the results she booked me for a follow up CT scan ( where they inject you with radioactive fluids which shows up cancer more effectively on a scan). However at this point mid April she phoned a colleague who was a surgeon and asked both for an urgent CT scan and an appointment to see him as soon as possible.

The CT scan showed that I was now at a level 3 B, with the cancer having spread across the whole of my prostate and nearing my urinary sphincter. This was now very serious and really the best option was to have a full prostatectomy. Luckily for me I was able to get the operation I need at UCLH with the skilled surgeon and their team using the brand new Da Vinci machine able to do the operation which was a success and did not require a great deal of cutting across my belly just a few small holes. I will if you are interested continue this story later but I want to share the need for all men to get regularly checked up through PSA tets, have the anal exam if there is any question of your prostate becoming enlarged or a problem. Do not listen to those that say PSA check are not totally reliable ( they are not 100%) so don't bother, dont heed those that say more people die with it and than from it, it is still one of the biggest killers of men. Do take your health seriously, go see your doctor ( when you can) for regular annual chaeck ups once 50+ and certainly when 60+, talk to those that you know or those that have had it, support the cancer and rostate charities and the NHS

So to sum up my beliefs around ageing and health I think the quality of life available to all those fortunate enough to be living as above is a gift that we should be thankful and respectful of, with the range of antibiotics, medicines that treat us. For example my pancreas's inability to process food properly, scans that forewarn me / us of impending problems so they can be successfully treated, modern eye and hearing aids, kine therapy that has helped me overcome arthritis of the jaw and sciatica. Just going into hospital now and seeing the skilled, dedicated, hard working conscientious staff at all levels and seeing the comradery of the staff who give so much and live a purposeful life makes me so respectful and grateful.

Also we baby boomers should I hope try to support our health services, the staff that work there, so they get decent pay and conditions and to fight for our government and health services to maintain and improve these and make them available to all including the generations that follow us. As well as decent human beings we need to support efforts made to expand these levels of health provision being made available over time to everyone in the world, with health being a basic public service rather than a mechanism to extract more profit by global companies

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