Facing cancer head-on
“Most men I know approaching the latter part of middle age will encounter some urinary problems, I just never knew it could be an indicator of serious prostate problems.”
Lau Lap-keung was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006, at age 64. He had a history of benign prostate enlargement and had experienced urination problems for quite some time. That’s why he never took much notice when his condition became more acute.
“I thought my symptoms were just part and parcel of getting older, or that my prostate enlargement problem was getting worse. I never thought about checking up with the doctor,” said Lau.
By coincidence, Lau registered for a study undertaken by the Chinese University on the effects of isoflavone on the prostate gland, which subsequently revealed that his PSA level was abnormally high. He was then referred to North District Hospital’s Urology Department for a biopsy, that confirmed he had stage 4 prostate cancer.
The news that he had stage 4 prostate cancer did not overwhelm him, but instead he kept asking himself why he didn’t notice anything of great seriousness until such a late stage.
“I undergo health checks every year, but they just cover the usual tests like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. I was under the assumption that males my age are mainly concerned with heart disease. Little did I know that prostate cancer could pose such a threat.”
Lau’s cancer had metastasized to his bones, and the doctor believed that he had only two more years to live. But given prostate cancer grows relatively slowly, the doctor told him there was no urgency for treatment and suggested that he wait.
In seeking a second opinion, Lau went to a hospital in Zhongshan University in China for another checkup, where he began hormonal treatment to lower his testosterone level, which can help to slow the growth of prostate tumours.
“Cancer doesn’t hurt, but my wallet does,” he laughed. “Those hormone tablets cost $15 each, adding up to over $1000 a month,” said Lau, who was placed under additional financial strain since he quit his job following diagnosis.
Of his own will, Lau also started using traditional Chinese medicine to strengthen his immunity to cope with the side-effects of hormonal therapies. “Whilst I underwent modern treatment, I believe in combining western and Chinese medicine, because I think it works well for me.”
As a result of hormone treatment and better attention to diet, Lau’s PSA levels lowered, helping to stabilize his condition.
Lau admitted that he didn’t know much about the symptoms and reducing the risk of prostate cancer, and despite having persistent symptoms for several years, he never took the time to discuss it with his doctor.
“I regret that I chose to “self-diagnose” my condition and overlook important prostate screenings. If I had not enrolled in that study, who knows what might have happened? I might have died from ignorance!”
Whilst there is no formal/scientific reason as to what causes prostate cancer, it is believed that a poor diet is a contributing factor. Lau, is one such person, who believes diet may have been a catalyst for his illness. “I used to work as a chef, and rarely did I eat healthily or take care of my body.”
But now Lau has completely transformed his diet and lifestyle. “I definitely eat a lot more vegetables and very little meat now. Less fat, better health!” He also joins diet workshops every now and then to share healthy recipes with fellow cancer patients.
These fellow patients are people he met at CancerLink support centres. “When I went for appointments in the hospital, I dropped by the Cancer Patient Resource Centre, to gather information about prostate cancer and tips on how to cope with treatment. Later, I also joined one of the support groups and met people who were going through a similar ordeal to me. We shared a lot.”
At present, Lau serves as an ambassador for one of the self-help groups, HKPMSA, and regularly visits new patients to share his experience and offer encouragement. “Prostate cancer is perhaps not as common as lung or colorectal cancer, which is why I think it’s important for new patients to have access to peer support and meet others who have been through the prostate cancer journey. Everybody’s experience is different, but I hope I can offer hope and confidence, to help alleviate their fears. .”
So what kind of advice does Lau have for other men in his age group? “I know a lot of men are afraid of losing their sexual ability, and they feel reluctant to admit or face problems if they arise, especially when it concerns their ‘manhood’. But I believe more men need to be encouraged to take action early and be aware of the implications if they choose to ignore unusual symptoms. Men also need to know that prostate cancer develops slowly over time, and if diagnosed early, the chances of a successful recovery are high. So any man over 50 should talk to their doctor whenever anything unusual comes up, and the benefits of prostate screening. Early detection really is the key to saving lives.”