Mark McDonald is one of a number of Holyrood Parliamentarians and staff getting hairy this month as part of this year’s Movember campaign. In today’s blog, Mark introduces John Thomson, who was a lecturer of communications at the former Glasgow Metropolitan College, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 53.

Mark, who is SNP MSP for North East Scotland and part of the SNP's Mo-Bros for Independence, said: “I’m proud to be taking part in Movember as it is a fantastic campaign that raises awareness, funds research and influences change in men’s health. John’s story highlights exactly why we should all band together to support this campaign.”

Only four years ago John, who is currently studying for a Post Graduate Diploma in Alcohol and Drugs Studies, was about to receive his first injection of a hormonal drug called goserelin and knew then some time the following year he was due to receive just under forty daily doses of radiotherapy.

John said: “I was 53. I couldn’t believe that I had prostate cancer. After all it was an old man’s disease leading to incontinence and impotence. I was understandably terrified. But let me take you back just a few months to before all that.

“I was seeing my GP about another matter and explained I was going to the toilet two or three times during the night, although I was not an alcohol drinker and drank very little coffee. She said that she would arrange for some tests and they seemed simple; a flow test and a blood test. What the results suggested was I had some problems including, possibly, prostate cancer.

“They had to check and they carried out the simplest test of all. The prostate, very basically, creates some of the fluid that carries sperm, called semen. It is the size of a walnut, when healthy, and sits just beneath the bladder. There is only one way to access it.

“The medics call it a Digital Rectal Examination; I know it as ‘the finger up the bum’ test and it is one reason why many men avoid going to the doctor (which is why Movember is so important). It was twenty seconds of discomfort and embarrassment that saved my life. My prostate was horrible. It suggested cancer.

“Came the day, came the announcement – I had prostate cancer and it looked bad. But it had not started to spread. I just said, ‘Fine. Can I go now?’ and left. We all deal with these things in different ways. I wasn’t brave, just dazed.

“I had been given a ‘tool kit’. This refers to a smashing collection of leaflets containing all sorts of information, much of it furnished by charities such as The Prostate Cancer Charity Scotland and MacMillan Cancer, and the phone number of a nurse, who you can phone for help or advice during the day.

“I had two options: surgery where the prostate is removed completely and therefore cancer can never return, or radiotherapy which was to be over two months. I liked the consultant who offered me the radiotherapy option. He made me laugh. And that I think is so important.

“Humour in all ways can help to lessen the concerns caused by any cancer. My radiotherapy took place over two months on a daily basis. It became a real highlight because of the humour that existed and the camaraderie between the guys, and their partners when they were there.

“It was like a football dressing room with possibly even ruder jokes than might be tolerated because everyone had something in common – prostate cancer. None of us wanted to be there and all of us wanted to be out as soon as possible but we made the best of it whilst we were there.

“All that happened just over three and a half years ago and for me. As far as I am concerned, the treatment has worked; I am neither impotent nor incontinent. We are not supposed to talk about cure but all I do, these days, is to get a simple blood test and as long as it’s okay, then I am.

“Movember is important not just because of the money it brings to men’s charities but for the increased awareness it also creates, not just about prostate cancer but testicular cancer and other male health problems.

“It helps fund research and awareness – getting the message out there. I do a lot of awareness work for The Prostate Cancer Charity Scotland, and Movember gives me something to target as men are beginning to think about their health but doing so with a smile on their faces and a ‘tache above their lips.

“I started the first part of my treatment in November four years ago with injections which killed the testosterone which feeds the cancer. It’s brilliant that the actions of so many men, by growing so many masculine moustaches, are now helping to save so many others.”

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