Cancer survivor who gave up job to drive bus carrying out routine check-ups says 'I'm happy to be alive, now I want to keep other men alive too'
A prostate cancer survivor has spoken of how he left his job as a lorry driver in order to drive Action Cancer's Big Bus across Northern Ireland to tell men: "Don't die of ignorance".
Leonard Brereton from Antrim was planning to retire when his life was thrown into turmoil six years ago by the diagnosis.
The married man and father-of-two said: "I was in the prime of my life, on the gravy train.
"I had a great job as a lorry driver; I had my house paid off and the car, no big outgoings and I wanted to retire when I was 60.
"I had seen people dying over the years, people go bankrupt, and marriages break down.
"I, on the other hand, had my life all planned out."
This all changed when Leonard, now 61, visited his GP for knee problems. After tests, he was later asked to come to hospital - and bring someone with him.
"That's when the alarm bells started to ring. A spanner had been thrown into the works and my whole life was turned upside down," he said.
New figures from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry reveal that an average of 1,049 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, and that it is the most common cancer in men.
Prostate cancer is also the second most common cause of cancer death among males in Northern Ireland, with an average of 251 deaths per year.
Leonard was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 54. "I enquired about my options and was told that I only had one - major surgery - and I had to have it very soon, otherwise in six months it would be too late."
Leonard had keyhole surgery and the operation, which took more than eight hours, successfully removed the cancer in full.
The recovery process was quite slow and he had to take three months off work.
He explained he first thought something was wrong when he started to have knee problems.
"My knees were giving me bother, so I visited my GP a week before a holiday to Florida with the family in 2009," he said.
"I happened to mention that I was running to the toilet a couple of times in the night."
Leonard had a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test, which can help diagnose prostate cancer.
When Leonard returned from America he was referred to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine for further investigation.
Leonard's escape has led him to urge other men to learn to watch out for the signs of the cancer.
"I am now six years cancer-free and my message to other men is this - don't die of ignorance. Don't think you are invincible.
"Cancer can strike any time, it's important to know your body and present unusual symptoms to your GP as soon as you spot them to increase your chances of survival." Leonard had worked for a petrol company for 27 years and when he had to take time out to deal with the prostate cancer, his outlook on life changed.
"Every company I had worked for before had been profits-based, so when I went back to work I lost heart in it.
"I didn't enjoy it any more and thought there was a different path for me," he said.
"That's when the opportunity to work as Action Cancer's Big Bus driver came up and I thought, 'Yes that's just right for me - it's time to give something back.'
"I'm also working with Action Cancer as a Peer Mentor, supporting men to deal with a cancer diagnosis. I'm happy to be alive, thankful to be here and to be helping others in the fight against cancer."
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