Michael John Kennedy started having regular blood tests five years ago to check for prostate cancer— knowing full well that early detection can make all the difference in overcoming the disease. When his PSA levels started to rise, the 69-year-old semi-retired engineer underwent a biopsy last June and discovered a malignancy in his prostate.
Like many diagnosed with cancer, Mike was initially stunned.
“I sort of fell off my chair. It was out of the blue,” said Mike, who has lived in Hong Kong for nearly 35 years since moving from London. “It all happened very quickly. This diagnosis and options for treatment were relayed to me in about 15 minutes of consultation and I was completely taken aback, actually devastated, by it all.”
But as the initial shock faded Mike and his wife resolved to stay positive and explore their alternatives. His choices were to either receive radiation treatment for six weeks or undergo surgery to remove his prostate.
“I was not too keen on the radiation treatment and I decided that if I was to have surgery then I should have it done as soon as possible. All this I discussed with my wife and she agreed. Both she and my grown up children were upset by the news,” he said.
He met with a second physician who detailed the benefits and drawbacks of each option. When the doctor said he could perform the surgery in almost a week, Mike decided to have his prostate removed. Because he lacked medical insurance, he used savings to help pay for the surgery. He underwent the procedure in August last year.
However, Mike faced even more challenges ahead. “If anything the operation was the easy part,” he said.
For the next two and a half months, Mike struggled with an inability to urinate, returning to the hospital four times for catheter insertions and laser treatment. Finally, after a number of minor operations and catheter treatments, the problem was solved.
Perhaps even more difficult, he said, was the uncertainty he faced after the procedure. Mike had gone into the operation assuming that he would likely be cancer-free once the prostate was removed. So he was distressed to learn afterward that, because the malignant cells had overtaken 10 percent of the prostate and were situated near an edge, there was a chance the cancer had spread to nearby parts of his body.
“They told me that the cancer may not be confined to the prostate. This was probably the most devastating thing for me to hear and I was extremely upset,” he said. “They said we've done this procedure but it may have not worked. So you'd gone through all this, and it's like somebody cut your leg off. I’d expected everything to finish, and then it wasn't.”
To determine whether or not the surgery had eradicated the cancer, Mike would need to take blood tests at one month, three months and six months after the procedure to gauge his PSA levels. An eternal optimist, Mike decided to remain upbeat and envisioned each of the three tests coming back with a reading of 0.1ng/ml — a sign that would indicate the cancer was no longer in his body.
“I told all my friends and my family about the situation,” he said. “I decided it was going to be less than 0.1 and told them, ‘I want you to believe that,’ and they all came back to me saying, ‘Yes, you’re going to do it!”
To further buoy his spirits, Mike wrote on a piece of paper “This cancer no longer exists.” He carried the paper wherever he went, glancing at it whenever he thought about the situation.
“You have to dispel all negative thoughts. You have to believe that everything is going to be alright,” he said.
Each of the three tests came back negative. More than six months after his operation, Michael is now cancer free.
“It’s difficult when you're sick. You've got to have help from other people,” he said. “I had the help from family and friends backing me up. And I'm sure that did the trick. I just believe if you can remain positive, there's this external energy that can help.”
After making a recovery, Mike took part in Hong Kong Cancer Fund's fundraising walkathon Stride for a Cure last November, hiking the trail blindfolded and guided by friends. In raising money for cancer research, he aimed to draw attention to the importance of cancer awareness.
“Since recovering I do not think about cancer that often, certainly I believe the prostate cancer has gone, but am more careful about my living, eating and drinking habits to try to prevent other forms of the disease attacking me,” he said.
“My suggestions and advice for others is that most forms of cancer can be treated, certainly if caught early enough. So medical checks and tests are essential on a regular basis, as one gets older,” he added. “Also try and remain positive. It is difficult when one is sick or ill but I am sure ‘mind over matter’ really helps to improve your quality of life and how you approach your illness; think positively and remain grateful.”