Prostate Awareness

There are at least three East Kent Freemasons who in 2017, thanks to their membership of the Craft, found they had early-stage prostate cancer. Having been diagnosed they received treatment and all three are now on the road to recovery. Ralph Apperley from Broadstairs, Ian Blowers from Gravesend and Andy Notley from Rainham received their treatments, respectively, in October, November and December.

How Was Their Cancer Discovered?

According to the charity Prostate Cancer UK, about one in eight men will get prostate cancer at some point in their lives. Older men, men with a family history of prostate cancer and Afro-Caribbean men are more at risk. Prostate cancer mainly affects men over fifty years old and the average age for men to be diagnosed with it is between sixty-five and sixty-nine. Men under fifty can get it, but it isn’t common.

One way of identifying the possibility of prostate cancer is to have a blood test to measure the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) present in the blood. The PSA test is not a precise indicator but, if the result is above a certain age-related level, it can indicate the need for further tests.

It was with these facts in mind that the Millennium Lodge of Charity in East Kent organised a mass PSA-testing day in Maidstone on 6th May 2017. The testing was carried out by a team of phlebotomists from the Graham Fulford Charitable Trust, a PSA-testing charity based in Warwickshire. The cost of the testing (about £20 per person) was met by donations from those who took part on the day together with a grant from the Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ Charity. The samples were taken back to Warwickshire, tested and the participants were informed of their result by letter a week or so later.

According to the Graham Fulford website (December 2017), 222 East Kent Freemasons lined up on the 6th May to have their PSA tested. Of these, 197 received a “green flag” letter indicating that their PSA level was below the threshold for their age group. Eight received an “amber” letter, indicating that their result was on the cusp. Seventeen received a “red flag” letter showing that their result was above the threshold and they were advised to visit their GP for some follow-up testing.

At the time of writing four of those tested in May were found to have prostate cancer.  Two of these – Ralph Apperley and Andy Notley – received red flag letters. A third well-known East Kent Freemason – Ian Blowers – has also received treatment. Ian’s was not picked up in May but, having had his awareness raised by a talk on Prostate Cancer at Mid Kent Masters’ Lodge, a visit to his GP led to the discovery of his cancer. In each case their cancers were found at an early / intermediate stage when more treatment options were available.

The photos below show Ralph, Ian and Andy recovering from their procedures.

Ralph Apperley
Ian Blowers
Andy Notley

All three received keyhole surgery to remove their prostates; Ralph at the Kent & Canterbury Hospital in October and Ian and Andy at Medway Maritime Hospital in November and December. These hospitals are the Centres of Excellence for prostate surgery in Kent. Each one has a “Da Vinci” robot system that can be used by the surgeon and both Ralph and Andy were treated in this way. All three reported positively on their experience and are grateful to the NHS for the excellent care they received before, during and after treatment. Ralph, Ian and Andy are all well on their way to recovery, albeit at different stages according to the time since surgery.

Were it not for the lodges’ efforts to raise awareness of prostate cancer and facilitate the PSA testing, Ralph, Ian and Andy’s conditions may not have been discovered until they were more advanced, when there would be a greater risk of the cancer having spread. All three experienced no significant symptoms until it was picked up in their PSA tests.

On learning of each other’s experiences, Ralph, Ian and Andy have kept in touch with each other to compare notes and lift each other’s spirits. Speaking while recuperating from their treatments, Ralph said: “The treatment I received from the National Health was exemplary and I have nothing but praise for the Nurses and Doctors who were involved with the operation, after-care service, and recovery programme. I was lucky, as the cancer had not spread and was totally contained within the prostate.”

Ian said: “I would really encourage any man to be tested as early as possible. The care I received from Darent valley hospital and then Medway is to be commended.” He went on to say: “On a much lighter note I will now be singing soprano in the Provincial Choir!”

Andy said: “If you are a man over the age of fifty and have not yet had your PSA tested, I recommend you seek to have it done as soon as possible. Look out for future visits from the Graham Fulford Charitable Trust to an East Kent lodge or ask your GP.”

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Postscript: Plans are in hand to offer more PSA-testing opportunities for East Kent Freemasons in 2018. Full details will be published soon.