I lost one man to prostate cancer. I refused to lose another: Like many men, Monty ignored his symptoms. But his girlfriend knew better
22:13 GMT, 16 July 2012
Patrica White frowned at the sound of the bathroom door closing. It could only have been half an hour since her new partner, Monty Cuthbert, had been to the lavatory.
Many women might have shied away from broaching a delicate subject — especially since this was only their fifth date. But Patricia knew she couldn’t sit back and say nothing.
A frequent need to urinate was one of the symptoms her late husband, Andy, had experienced before being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He’d died aged 58.
Campaign: Monty Cuthbert and Patricia White
So when Monty reappeared, Patricia took a deep breath, explained her concerns, and urged him to see his GP.
Monty admitted he’d had the problem for five years. He’d even been to see his doctor about it, but had been told the problem was probably a hernia.
‘I told him that’s exactly what doctors had told Andy, and begged him to go back and ask for more tests,’ says Patricia, 64 and a retired local authority councillor.
Monty agreed to see his doctor, who gave him a blood test for prostate specific antigen (PSA), a protein linked to prostate disease including cancer. In men his age, a reading of four or under is normal; Monty’s was 12.
Further tests confirmed Patricia’s worst fears: not only did Monty have prostate cancer, it was also an aggressive type. Thanks to Patricia, however, the disease had been discovered early enough to be treated.
Cancer of the prostate (the walnut-sized gland that helps transport sperm) is the most common form of the disease in men, with 40,000 new cases a year in the UK.
Even though the condition can be successfully treated if caught in time, there are more than 10,000 deaths every year from prostate cancer in the UK — that’s more than one man every hour.
'When I noticed him visiting the loo more
frequently, I thought that something just wasn't right. I insisted he
get checked out'
Doctors say too many men are still unaware of the symptoms, which include a need to urinate more urgently, poor flow, blood in urine and pain — and they say women could hold the key to raising survival rates, by being vigilant to the signs, and nagging their partners to see their GP.
Patricia had had to nag her late husband to see a doctor. She and Andy, a welder, were in their 40s when they’d met and had been delighted by the late arrival of daughter Andrea.
She says: ‘Divorced with four children, I’d thought my family was complete. So it was a lovely surprise to discover I was expecting. Andy was over the moon to become a dad for the first time.’
As Patricia’s pregnancy progressed, Andy began to complain of a pain in his groin. ‘He blamed it on bumping into some machinery at work,’ recalls Patricia. ‘But when I noticed him visiting the loo more frequently, I thought that something just wasn’t right. I insisted he get checked out.’
His GP diagnosed a hernia and a bladder infection, for which he prescribed antibiotics. But a month later, just after baby Andrea’s birth, Andy wasn’t feeling any better. He went back to his GP and was given a PSA test.
A reading below ten usually means the cancer is contained within the prostate gland and is curable. Andy’s was 120.
After further scans and biopsies, a consultant broke the news: Andy had an advanced form of the cancer.
‘The cancer had spread to his ribs and his spine,’ recalls Patricia. ‘He told us Andy had about six months to live.
‘We were both too stunned even to reply. We were also shocked that Andy had been diagnosed with a disease that normally affects much older men. He was also fit and healthy.’
Because the cancer had spread, it was too late for surgery, so specialists tried to contain the disease with radiotherapy and hormone therapy to reduce the amount of testosterone in Andy’s body, which fuels the cancer.
Six months passed, then a year, with Andy responding well. ‘We took each day as it came,’ says Patricia. ‘The first thing we did was get married, with Andrea as flower girl.
‘In the early days, Andy would get angry that he wasn’t going to see our daughter grow up. But over time, he developed a “seize the day” mentality, suggesting holidays or days out. It was as if he was banking up memories.’
'Is your man ok' Patrica and Monty are supporting a campaign for prostate awareness that encourages women to look out for the symptoms in their partner (posed by models)
Incredibly, given his bleak prognosis, Andy lived for 13 years with few symptoms.
But, in October 2006, tests revealed that the cancer had spread to his left hip. Patricia was at his hospital bedside when he died, peacefully, a month later.
‘It was Andrea’s 13th birthday the following day — and we were all heartbroken,’ Patricia recalls. ‘The next few months after losing Andy were a blur. But by spring I’d decided to return to work.’
In April 2007, she attended a work function and bumped into Monty Cuthbert — a fellow councillor based in nearby Doncaster. ‘I’d heard that Monty’s wife, Ellen, had died suddenly from a heart attack two months earlier,’ Patricia says. ‘He looked gaunt and pained. Afterwards, I rang to ask how he was. I wanted to assure him that it did get easier with time.’
The couple began to chat regularly and accompany each other to work functions.
‘We got along so well that friendship blossomed into something closer,’ says Patricia. ‘We both felt incredibly lucky to have found happiness for a second time.’
But when Monty was diagnosed with the disease that had killed her husband, Patricia was horrified. ‘I couldn’t believe lightning could strike twice,’ she says.
'She spotted my symptoms and saved me from an early grave'
Doctors, however, assured the couple the cancer was localised and had been detected just in time.
‘Monty was incredibly matter-of-fact about it,’ says Patricia. ‘He was offered a radical prostatectomy, where the entire prostate is removed, or two years of radiotherapy to target the cancer. He wanted to get it dealt with immediately and opted for surgery.’
He had his operation at the Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield in September 2007, and made a full recovery, avoiding side-effects of the surgery such as impotence and incontinence.
Today Monty, 68, has no doubt Patricia saved his life. ‘She spotted my symptoms and saved me from an early grave,’ he says.
The couple now work to raise awareness of prostate cancer. The campaign features two posters — one aimed at men, ‘Are you ok’; the other at women, asking: ‘Is your man ok’
Patricia explains: ‘It’s equally pertinent for women to be informed. It could be your husband, dad, brother, son — even a colleague — nipping frequently to the loo. If you are concerned, encourage them to see their GP, just to have prostate cancer ruled out.’
Around almost half of the country’s councils have agreed to display the posters in public and workforce lavatories.
‘We don’t want to scare people,’ says Monty. ‘We just want to make them aware that what they see as minor waterworks problems might not be so minor — and to push for a PSA test if they have any doubts.
‘Many men ignore symptoms, hoping they will go away or be too embarrassed to talk to the doctor. As a result, prostate cancer is diagnosed late.’
Professor Roger Kirby, director of The Prostate Centre, London, adds: ‘Monty and Patricia’s story illustrates that a partner’s knowledge can mean the man being diagnosed at a stage when the cancer is treatable. If we can educate women on the symptoms of prostate cancer, they can look after their men.’