Grateful Andrew’s a picture of health, and now he’s spreading the word

Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson - Credit: Archant

We’ve already told you about the Lister Hospital’s robotic surgery team. Now meet a very satisfied customer...

Andrew Nicholson could have stepped out of one of those ads for cruises or Saga insurance – he’s fit and healthy, recently retired from his job as a project manager in the water industry, and making the most of life.

He and wife Gill like spending time in the Spanish sunshine, the kids have grown up and there’s a grandchild to spoil.

He exercises almost every day, and when he was at work his firm sorted him out with a thorough annual health check.

Just don’t mention the cancer...


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Or rather, do mention the cancer – because Andrew wants other men looking forward to their later years to learn from his experience.

Back in April, his GP ordered up a blood sample after a routine appointment.

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So here comes the science stuff. Any man over 50 can ask for a simple PSA – that’s Prostatic Specific Antigen – test, but it’s not automatic.

Andrew talked it over with his doctor, and asked for the test to be done.

The result showed a PSA level just a tad over the recommended level, but it was enough to trigger an automatic referral to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage.

After an MRI scan and biopsy there was bad news for Andrew, 61, who lives in Chells Manor – prostate cancer. It was caught very early, but it was still cancer. So what to do?

There were a number of options offered – just do nothing and keep an eye on it, use targeted radiotherapy to tackle it, or opt for surgery.

That’s where RALP comes in – sorry, more science, but it stands for Robotic Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy, and it’s one of the procedures carried out using the amazing Robodoc machine I was blown away by when I saw it in action during a surgery session at the Lister.

Andrew weighed up the options, talked it through with the experts and his family, and decided to go for it.

“My decision wasn’t an immediate one,” he said. “It was based on detailed literature provided by the hospital, information from Prostate Cancer UK and talking with my wife and other key family members.”

The decision made, there was more briefing for Andrew and Gill from a nurse practitioner who spelled out how to prepare for surgery, what would happen in theatre and what happened afterwards.

Andrew’s op was in mid-August. “I was in hospital for just three days,” he said. “My six week post-op review with the consultant confirmed I was free of prostate cancer.

“There is virtually no detectable scarring and, because my cancer was detected so early, the majority of the nerves were able to be spared during surgery, paving the way for a speedy recovery.”

So, a lucky escape and back to the good life? Yes, and good luck to him.

But Andrew is also keen to spread the word.

Men of a certain age might prefer not to think about it, but prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in the UK with 40,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

But thanks to that simple test – it’s not foolproof, but it can flag up the need for further investigation – what could have been a real life-changer was spotted early and snipped out by Robodoc.

We’ve talked about men of more mature years, but that doesn’t mean you’re somehow protected until you reach that age.

Men are notoriously reluctant to talk through medical issues or go to the doctor, particularly if it’s to do with the downstairs area.

But hoping for the best and ignoring warning signs could have disastrous consequences.

The experts all say that the earlier cancer is spotted the better, so if you’ve got concerns, or symptoms, don’t keep it to yourself.

If you want to arm yourself with more information, Prostate Cancer UK has a confidential helpline on 0800 074 8383, or you can visit www.prostatecanceruk.org.

If you’re 50 or older, remember those three little letters PSA, and talk about them with your GP.

And if that dread diagnosis does cast a shadow over your life, have confidence in the NHS.

Andrew, as you might expect, is a fan. “I’m extremely grateful for the impressive service provided by the Lister,” he said. “I’m also lucky that RALP was an option at my local hospital.

“My thanks go to the surgical team, the nursing staff, and the Macmillan nurses for their caring professionalism – and also to the support and admin staff working behind the scenes.”

The machine is mind-blowing – but it’s only a tool that depends on the team behind it, at every step of the process.

And that process starts with a patient, so don’t bury your head in the sand. It could happen to you but, as Andrew can testify, an early diagnosis that allows the NHS to swing into action mean that cancer doesn’t have to be a life-changer.

- In the 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 black men are more at risk.

- It mainly affects men over the age of 50 and your risk increases with age.

- The average age for men to be diagnosed is between 70 and 74.

- No one knows how to prevent prostate cancer, but diet and a healthy lifestyle may be important in protecting against the disease.

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