Health

'A miracle'

Man given 6 months to live after cancer diagnosis raising awareness 5 years later

BY ANIKA RICHARDS
Associate editor - news
richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 25, 2017



FROM praying for death to come five years ago to now trying to raise awareness about prostate cancer, 59-year-old Alfred Samuels says he has been given a new lease on life.

At age 54, Samuels, who was born in the United Kingdom to Jamaican parents, was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in London in January 2012.

“Once they carried out further tests they realised it (the cancer) was stage four… and it had metastasised. in other words, it had escaped my prostate and gone into other parts of my body; so really, the situation was a dire one,” Samuels recounted to the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

He said his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) score, which is arrived at from a blood test that measures the amount of PSA in the blood, was 509 (ng/mL) at the time.

According to WebMD, most men have PSA levels under four (ng/mL), and this has traditionally been used as the cut-off for concern about the risk of prostate cancer.

“My cancer had spread to locations outside of my prostate — left hip, six lower ribs, elbow, base of my lungs, base of my skull — in 2012,” Samuels said.

The prostate cancer survivor told Your Health Your Wealth that he asked his doctor then how long he had to live.

“His words were, 'Think short term rather than long term,'” Samuels said, adding that he was given six months to live.

He said after his diagnosis, based on the advanced stage of his cancer, he was asked if he would like to participate in the Cancer Research UK-funded Stampede drug trial. Samuels said he spoke with his wife and children about it, and the consensus was that he had nothing to lose, so he went ahead.

The trial incorporated a drug called abiraterone, along with the standard hormone therapy at the start of treatment for prostate cancer. He started the drug trial in March 2012, but things got worse before they got better.

“It was horrendous. I could hardly walk. From the time I was diagnosed I just went downhill, fast, and I mean fast,” he recalled. “I then started the medication but it had metastasised so obviously I went through a lot more. Anyway, the medication started to kick in, but that took a while.

“So whilst that was happening, you suffer. You go through everything that's possible with the side effects of that medication and anything else. I had... serious pains in my lower back, in my waist, in my hips.

According to Samuels, he wasn't “getting on with some of the medication”.

“All of a sudden, I just collapsed. I had to be rushed to the hospital and I was hospitalised for a number of days whilst they investigated what was going on and, of course, this caused a lot of worry and concern.

“Anyways, [I was] discharged with a bag of medication to take and I was literally on 16 tablets a day, and basically that's what I had to do and really I just started to see my whole life change in front of me.

“I could barely walk, I could barely think clearly,” he continued. “...Eventually the medication started to kick in and I got back some normality of life — some.

“After about, say a year of being on the medication, they (family members) really started to jump for joy because they saw this medication was doing what it needed to do, considering I was given six months,” he said.

Samuels confessed, however, that throughout it all, there were days he thought he could get through everything, then there were days when he didn't think he could continue.

“Because some days, believe me, I prayed for death to come,” the 59-year-old disclosed. “Because of the pain and the whole disruption to my life... But I just kept battling on — my wife was there supporting me all the way.”

He even considered suicide.

“The mental anguish of going through the cancer journey, watching your children around you, they in turn looking at you knowing that you're the one that's always been strong — they'd never seen their father cry. But boy, they did, because the medication does that to you; it changes you, especially with the hormone injection.

“What was also clear was what I was going through mentally, how I was saying to myself, 'This is it, I am ending it.' That's the medication, that is what it can do to you.

“I know somebody that said to me, six months was as long as he could last as he became suicidal [and] they (medical team) had to take him off [the medication].

“And I thought to myself, 'Five years I put that drug into my body... It has worked, but it almost didn't. Because within me, there was a time... I just really couldn't take it anymore. And I plotted it, I worked it [out] in my brain what I was going to do and how I was going to do it for that given moment in time — I'll never forget it. I knew what I was going to do and something or somebody stopped me from doing it, and I am glad they did because I have seen the end result,” Samuels shared.

“I have lived to tell the tale about this medication, what it could do, what it did. It's five years now. Let's be clear, for me, there is no remission; however, they are managing my condition very well,” he continued.

During the first stages of his diagnosis and treatment, Samuels took meticulous notes which he later turned into a book entitled Invincibility In The Face of Prostate Cancer: Coming Out The Other Side, to bring about a better awareness to people, to men, about the disease. He told Your Health Your Wealth that he has also written a second book, Motivated to Inspire, which is due out now.

His wife, Grace, said supporting her husband wasn't difficult, but dealing with her own emotions about the issue was.

“It wasn't hard to support him, but I suppose what the hardest part was who would then support me... That was the hardest part because, yes, we had spoken about what was happening to him, but then some of my innermost thoughts I couldn't express that to him because I would feel guilty about putting that on him when he's got a lot already,” she told Your Health Your Wealth.

Though Samuels' cancer did not materialise with the customary symptoms such as burning or pain during urination or more frequent urges to urinate at night, but by a sharp pain in his lower back that eventually became a paralysing pain a couple weeks later, he is encouraging men to get screened before symptoms occur. In fact, he had not been screened and, according to him, he “should've known better”.

“I was so busy making a living but I forgot to live. My mother died from breast cancer. Six months later her sister died from cancer. Five years later their brother died from prostate cancer. so in the family chain, it's there; the bad gene is there,” Samuels said.

So what is his message to men who might be hesitant about being screened for prostate cancer?

“If you don't love yourself, you certainly love your family and because you love your family, you owe it to your family to be screened. Money is not the be all and end all of life.

“Bear this in mind, prostate cancer is curable if caught early enough. You don't want to go the route I went and find that you now have a disease that's escape the prostate and basically has metastasised because your luck may not be the same as my luck,“ he urged. “And I have known many men [who have] pass[ed] [away] and I am still here. Now that's not to say I'll always be here, but I tell you something now, I will never give up to the day they put me in that coffin — I will not give up.

“... Men, stop this nonsense, stop taking prostate cancer as a taboo subject. we need to move from taboo to table talk, that is what has got to happen,” Samuels said.

Samuels said when the doctors saw his PSA reduce to a negligible number, they told him he was a miracle.

Five years after being diagnosed with the life-threatening condtion, Samuels is still affected by effects of the medication, but he is living with those side effects.

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