Tuesday 5 May, 2020

Why are we not talking about prostate cancer?

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Why are we not talking as much about prostate cancer? What is it like to get diagnosed with prostate cancer? What can I do if a loved one receives a prostate cancer diagnosis? Every week in the War On Cancer app we post War On Cancer ‘Take Overs’. The weekly takeovers are done by professionals sharing insights into their lives, work, and what they have experienced. This week the War On Cancer weekly take over is done by Staffan Bergström – Medical Doctor, Gynecologist and Obstetrician who’ve spent years working in hospitals in Africa, Norway and at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. This week we’re getting to know Staffan on a more personal level and how it was like to be affected by prostate cancer.

Meet Staffan

My name is Staffan Bergtröm and I’ve been a medical doctor since 1969, yes over 50 years! I started off as a gynecologist and obstetrician and have now spent almost 10 years in different countries in Africa, where the larger part of my time was spent in Mozambique. In this week’s War On Cancer takeover I will be sharing a bit about my work in Africa, the differences we face there in comparison to in the global north, but also share what it was like to be diagnosed with cancer. Prostate cancer.

Life as a doctor in Mocambique

I arrived in Maputo in 1981, when I was about 38-years-old, and to be honest, at the time I wasn’t really prepared for the experience that I was about to have to be the chief obstetrician of the Central Hospital and the clinics where we had more than 50 000 births in a year during an active war – I worked a minimum of 80h a week and learned so much that I wouldn’t have been able to learn otherwise.

I remember how I learned that we are so capable of pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone when we really have to – in this case, when we were understaffed, I had to teach nurses to perform C-sections and deliver babies (even though they weren’t licensed doctors) but we managed, they managed, which is very much like going through cancer.

With cancer, you’re forced to face a dire situation that you never thought you’d have to face – but you do it to the best of your capability. We can’t expect more from ourselves.

Life as a doctor in Maputo, pre prostate cancer diagnosis
Diagnosed with prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is more common than what many people think and one in seven men are diagnosed (in Sweden). I received my prostate cancer diagnosis in 2019, last year, and at the time I was 76-years-old. Many of you might not be able to relate to me specifically but maybe you have a father or a grandfather that might have gone through prostate cancer and if so, do let them know that they’re not alone in this and they too should connect with others in the War On Cancer app if they feel like talking to people who’ve experienced what they’re going through. If you’re a loved one to someone who has been affected by prostate cancer you can as well join in, in the War On Cancer community, and learn from others. In my case, with my diagnosis, surgery was considered having more side effects than radiotherapy and, therefore, that was my selected treatment option. Anyone who has experienced that can probably relate to experiencing extreme fatigue and exhaustion, which was something I had never experienced before – not even when I was working more than 80h work-weeks in Maputo! All of the new experiences, which cancer exposed me to, made me realize that the unexpected can happen to anyone, anywhere, and that makes you cherish and appreciate every day slightly more than before.

Staffan Bergström, Medical Doctor and Prostate Cancer survivor
Symptoms and advice

At the time, as mentioned, I was 76-years-old and had lived a very fruitful and full life so I managed to cope with the diagnosis better than what I probably would have if I had been younger. Despite the exhaustion of course! Having gone through cancer and with my background as a doctor I would advise all men (young to older) to learn how to get checked regularly, from an early age. Even if you, when you’re younger, feel somewhat immortal it’s good to always just keep track on your own health. Women are for instance more prone to keep track of symptoms connected to breast cancer, as breast cancer usually happens in younger ages (and can be traced by self-examination) but also because breast cancer has received a lot more awareness and campaigning than prostate cancer has. That doesn’t mean that prostate cancer doesn’t occur. Prostate cancer is more common than many think and it’s important to get an (unfortunate) diagnosis early. I think one part of raising preventative awareness for prostate cancer is by talking about it, like we’re doing here and now, and by publicly acknowledging that prostate cancer is equally important as any other cancer diagnosis and addressing the question of “Why are we not talking about prostate cancer?

Look out for

  • Having the need and urgency to empty the bladder nighttime is common in old age but should raise concern in men below 50.
  • If you feel difficulties in emptying the bladder, young as well as older, seek medical advice.

Prostate cancer does not mean the end of sexual life so I recommend each person going through prostate cancer to seek advice and prescription from an urologist, if needed. As a loved one to someone with prostate cancer, give support and encouragement, and, as a partner support not least in sexual matters, which for some affected by prostate cancer can feel overwhelming.

All the best,

Staffan Bergström

Join the conversation in-app and connect with others through the War On Cancer in-app account where we will be talking more about how to cope with a cancer diagnosis such as prostate cancer.

The information shared does not constitute a medical consultation and is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult with your doctor or other qualified health provider for questions regarding a medical condition, especially during the active period of Corona / Covid19. Please do not disregard professional health provider advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here.  In the event of a medical emergency, call a doctor, 112 or 911 immediately.

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