Published on 24 March 2020
They aren’t doctors or nurses, but members of a prostate cancer support group have still been credited with saving lives.
Volunteers from the Prostate Cancer Support Association Kent (PCSA Kent) give up their time to stand outside supermarkets or in town centres, handing out leaflets about the condition and raising money and awareness.
And the hours spent standing in the cold and rain are all proved worth it, when men seek them out to share stories of how the chance encounter prompted them to seek medical advice, and they have now started treatment for prostate cancer.
Alan Prior, one of the founding members of the group, said: “A lot of people still have their heads in the sand when it comes to prostate cancer.
“Often we try to give them a leaflet but they think it won’t happen to them.
“But then you have people who come back and say we saved their life. One man took a leaflet from us at the Tesco Extra in Broadstairs, and then came over next time we were there to say we saved his life because he was displaying symptoms and he hadn’t realised.
“Another man said the same when we were at an event at the Cathedral Lodge in Canterbury – his cancer was close to moving out of the prostate, which is when it is really dangerous, but because he saw his doctor after reading our leaflet he was able to start treatment just in time.”
Each year, more than 11,000 men die of prostate cancer – on average one every 45 minutes. March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and another opportunity for the group to raise awareness.
Alan, from Walmer, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002, and had surgery the following year.
And it was in 2005 that he met a fellow patient, Graham Edwards, at a Burns Night event, and Graham revealed he was thinking of setting up a support group.
The pair announced their intention on the night and immediately received a donation of £200 to get them started.
Since then, the group has grown to almost 60 members and they meet monthly at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital.
Meetings usually have a speaker, often a consultant or radiographer, and they have close links with cancer charity Macmillan as well.
Alan said: “It is a vibrant membership and there is no doom and gloom.
“We like to laugh, and find that is a way of coping with it.
“A diagnosis of cancer stops you in your tracks but most of our members find the group a great help and a great comfort.
“We can share their journey and reassure them, and help them find answers to some of their questions.”
But the group doesn’t just provide emotional support – they also fundraise to buy equipment that will benefit prostate cancer patients.
Previous donations have included mobile scanners, so people can have scans in their homes or wherever they are, and specialist equipment including a medical chair.
Money is raised through collection buckets, as well as members giving talks to various groups and societies.
Alan said: “Over the years we have donated equipment worth more than £400,000, all targeted at prostate cancer patients.
“It is our way of giving something back to the hospitals and to the staff who have been so helpful to us.
“Sometimes we can collect more than £1,000 in a weekend standing outside a supermarket, and we always hand out leaflets and talk to people as well.
“For me it is about pointing people in the right direction and getting the message out there that if you’re a man over 50 you should ask your doctor about a PSA test – even if you have no symptoms.
“The earlier you can catch it, the greater chance there is of curing it.”
For more information on PCSA Kent, visit www.pcsakent.org
Meetings usually take place on the last Wednesday of every month at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, from 10.15am until 12.30pm. There is also a helpline, 03333 202360.
For more information on prostate cancer, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/