Malcolm Bell and David Brighton rowed the 10 miles for charity from Lough Neagh to Portadown Boat Club on Saturday – happy in the knowledge that both had come through prostate cancer.
They were taking part in the superbly eccentric Portadown Marascull, when people of all ages set off in their boats from Bannfoot, where the River Bann enters Lough Neagh, and strained muscle and mind as they hauled their way to the Portadown Boat Club headquarters – “we’re both clocking on a bit, but we love rowing and keeping fit”.
And perhaps it was that fitness that helped them through the rather tough treatment that saw them conquer the cancer that strikes so many men of mature age, and thankfully they both had the sense to go for the check-up.
Malcolm’s story is rather typical. A former bank manager, he knew he had a family history of prostate cancer, but didn’t heed the warning, “as I had experienced no symptoms whatsoever and was a member of the Portadown Boat Club seniors, feeling as fit as the proverbial fiddle”. That meant competing on the Bann in Portadown, and in places like Coleraine, Enniskillen, Derry, Belfast and Carrick-on-Shannon. He recently completed a half-marathon in Edinburgh where his son Patrick lives.
But a doctor friend “nagged me continuously about having a check-up, until I gave in and he finally did the test and gave me the shattering news that my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) count was sky-high. But it was at the early stages - the cancer hadn’t spread and was curable, with prostate cancer treatment having made so many developments over the years”.
So he embarked on specialist treatment – a focused regime called brachytherapy – at Leeds, followed by radiotherapy in Belfast. The combined treatment cleared the cancer before it had spread, which could have led to his death.
David, meantime, faced another treatment in Craigavon, having his prostate removed and that, too, worked. Said Malcolm, “There is a wide menu of treatment for prostate sufferers. Each person is different, but there is one vital common denominator – early diagnosis.”
Malcolm is hoping the Leeds treatment will be available in NI, although he points out that brachytherapy is just one of a wide range of treatments.
Meanwhile on the Lough Neagh-Boathouse route, single, double and four scull rowers took part in the Marascull. David and Malcolm are raising money for Friends of the Cancer Centre based at the City Hospital. Their time on Saturday was a commendable one hour, 15 mins – “not bad for a pair of old-timers” - and confirmed that they had retained their basic fitness throughout the trauma.
Anyone wishing to donate can do so online, at www.justgiving.com with the reference ‘Malcolm-Bell1’ (the number one) – so give generously.