'When I was told I had cancer I was so shocked... to hear those words is just devastating'
A shattering diagnosis for prostate cancer last year prompted Ken McBride, from Co Antrim to back a hard-hitting campaign which urges all men to get checked for the disease. Stephanie Bell reports
A year ago this month, Greenisland man Ken McBride's life changed dramatically when he heard the words 'you have cancer'. Now, one year on and as the dad-of-one continues to go through treatment, he is backing the new Cancer Research UK 'Right Now' campaign which urges people to take immediate action to help increase survival rates for cancer.
Highlighting the reality of cancer - and thanking his own special support team - is what's driving Ken to back the highly charged and emotional TV, poster and radio campaign which is designed to show the reality of cancer for patients like Ken, their friends and family.
The powerful films - which feature real patients in real-life moments - are a compelling call for everyone to take action right now in the battle against the disease.
For Ken, his support team sprang into action when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January 2015. Now he wants to say a special thank you to them for being there.
"And that's why I'm backing the Right Now campaign," he says.
"Many people like me have to face their own cancer journey every day. With the help of the campaign I'm urging people across Northern Ireland to take action right now to help fund vital research which will help more people beat this devastating disease."
Ken (54), a self-employed project manager, is married to Helen (55) and has one son Jamie (28), living in Scotland.
Like anyone, receiving a cancer diagnosis came as a shock and Ken says one year on the experience has completely changed his perspective on life.
He had symptoms for some months before going to his GP - and was shaken to be told that if he had left it any longer the outcome could have been very different.
As part of his support for the new charity campaign he is also encouraging all of us not to hesitate if we suspect all is not well.
Ken recalls: "I had known for some months something was wrong as I had been getting up around six or seven times at night to visit the toilet.
"Sometimes I felt a real urgency but when I went to the loo, nothing happened.
"My GP was great. He did a questionnaire with me and carried out blood tests. He got the ball rolling immediately and referred me to a urologist
"I saw the urologist in November 2014 and during December had further tests and scans; and obviously it was on my mind all over Christmas that year."
Despite his fears, though, Ken was not prepared for the news.
"The diagnosis of prostate cancer left me completely shocked - when those words are said to you it is a blow.
"Right from the start, though, the oncologist and all the staff in the Cancer Centre in Belfast City Hospital were amazing. I was immediately put at ease and all my fears were allayed."
Ken says the treatment he received after his diagnosis was first class with the specialists telling him about what lay ahead while encouraging him to ask questions.
"Although it is hard I wanted to know all about my treatment, so that I understood how and why something was going to affect me.
"One the biggest problems when you get a diagnosis like that is the unknown. The uncertainty of it all can play havoc with your mind but the staff at the hospital made it easy for me to cope."
Meanwhile, Ken was offered the chance to take part in a huge clinical trial - the Stampede trial - which is being funded by Cancer Research UK and has already improved outcomes for men with advanced prostate cancer.
Clinical director at the Cancer Centre, Professor Joe O'Sullivan explains the significance of the trial: "The Stampede trial, which has been running in Belfast for over 10 years, is one of the most important clinical trials ever in advanced prostate cancer.
"Over the years, the trial has been testing various additions to standard hormone therapy in men with the more serious variety of prostate cancer. This has led to practice-changing improvements in the treatment of this disease.
"The Stampede trial is an excellent example of how research should be at the core of delivering high quality cancer care.
"Myself and my team are forever grateful to the courageous men who have been part of this trial in Belfast."
Ken didn't hesitate when asked to take part in the trial and found, at the heart of his treatment was a group of people who would be with him all the way. The team helped him to cope with side effects and understand how a clinical trial could help his own recovery, and potentially, other cancer patients in the future.
He explains: "I was prescribed hormone treatment in tablet form in order to shrink the tumour which was replaced with hormone injections after a few weeks.
"Since the beginning of my treatment, the subject of taking part in a trial was discussed and I was happy to take the opportunity. I had a series of scans followed by radiotherapy treatment. The hormone injections have continued throughout the radiotherapy and will do so for a number of years to come."
While his family have been there for him throughout and continue to be, Joe has also been really encouraged by the support from the medical team.
He says: "Alongside my loved ones, I've also had incredible support from nurse Adrina O'Donnell - from answering the many questions I had following my diagnosis to explaining the different treatment options available to me - for which I am very grateful.
"My experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK's work is so important. It is a surprise when you go to the cancer centre for the first time. I thought it would be like going into my doctor's waiting room but it was more like an airport lounge, there were so many patients there.
"Up to 350 people a day attend for radiotherapy and there are 10 machines going constantly - that was a great leveller.
"There are patients with all forms of cancer - it is no respecter of age, gender or position.
"You need to park your dignity at the door - but I was encouraged to ask questions and I was given an explanation of what was happening at every stage and why it was happening."
Although Ken's cancer was aggressive, he was relieved to be told it had not spread.
As the Greenisland dad continues his treatment, he says life now has changed for him as a result of his illness.
"It does change your perspective on things.
"It's hard to put into words but I appreciate things a lot more now and things which would have annoyed me before I now find in the grand scheme of things are not that important.
"There are not enough adjectives to describe the care I received in the cancer centre. Helpful, professional and knowledgeable the staff put me completely at ease - something which made my journey a lot more bearable."
He adds: "I am delighted to have the opportunity to support the Right Now campaign as I feel I want to give something back. And if my support leads to one person going to see their doctor and being diagnosed early it will have been worthwhile."
Jean Walsh, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Northern Ireland, says: "We would like to thank Ken for his support. His experience shows cancer has a massive impact on the person who has been diagnosed with the disease and everyone around them.
"Every hour someone in Northern Ireland is diagnosed with cancer.
"And right now, there are people province-wide who are providing invaluable support for them, including doctors, nurses and scientists to best friends, colleagues and neighbours.
"They show the power we all have to make a difference and that's why we're calling on everyone to take action right now in the fight against cancer."
For more information on how to help beat cancer sooner, visit www.cruk.org