Marathon runner Tony Collier tells how a diagnosis of prostate cancer turned his life upside down in an instant
I want to share my story as I know it can be used to encourage men to get tested and thus save lives.
I ran my first marathon when I was 50 and swore never again. I swore never again another 18 times up to age 59. In 2016 I ran one of the toughest ultra-marathons in the world at the age of 59. I was going back to do it again in June 2017, but throughout my training I had a niggling groin strain that I couldn’t shift. In April 2017 I ran the Manchester and Paris marathons a week apart but a couple of weeks later I couldn’t get my right leg out of the car.
So I made an appointment to see a sports injuries specialist and pre-arranged an MRI scan. When the specialist saw the scan he sent me for a chest x-ray and blood tests (the first time I’d ever come across a PSA test) there and then, and a CT scan the next day. Then he called me to let me know that I probably had prostate cancer.
After 10 days of tests, it was confirmed: stage 4, PSA 129, Gleason 5+4 with widespread mets throughout the skeleton. I had effectively gone from training for an ultra-marathon to terminally ill in 36 hours. My worst-case prognosis was two years.
The following days and months were horrendous, punctuated with awful darkness. I was terrified of what the future held. Thankfully, once a treatment plan started, things got better. However, the treatment for stage 4 prostate cancer is truly horrendous and resulted in my total emasculation as a man and as an athlete. I sometimes want to say please stop and let nature take its course. But then I realise that I’ve still got so much to live for.
Three years on and I’m now 63. My PSA hasn’t been recordable for over two years. Hormone therapy coupled with Abiraterone has worked well in controlling the cancer, though I still hate its impact on our lives. Abiraterone regrettably is still not available in England as first line treatment so I’ve no idea what happens when I can no longer afford my private medical insurance in March 2021.
They tell me I’d had the cancer for 10 years and I’d had no symptoms. If only I’d known to ask for a PSA test annually from age 50: I could have had curative treatment. Men need to be proactive about their prostate health, particularly in countries where there is no screening programme.