RAISING AWARENESSS: Tony Sealey
LEADING BIRMINGHAM businessman Tony Sealey has taken the brave step of talking publicly and openly about his experience of prostate cancer to encourage men of African Caribbean heritage to be more aware of the vital facts concerning the disease.
By being candid, the 55-year-old entrepreneur, who was awarded the OBE for his services to the business community in 2007, hopes to alleviate fears about the disease and explain the choices available.
His story starts 12 years ago when a chance reading of a magazine article while on a flight home from a conference in Chicago alerted Sealey to the fact that African Caribbean men face a greater risk from prostate cancer. That prompted him to ask his father if he’d ever been tested for the disease.
“Dad said no, but on the back of that conversation he had some assessments and found he had prostate cancer,” explains Sealey, who was born in Barbados.
“The disease was at a fairly early stage, but was diagnosed as being fairly aggressive and needed immediate treatment. Dad, who was 65 at the time, had brachytherapy, which involves the use of radioactive ‘seeds’ to deliver radiotherapy directly into the cancerous prostate gland.
“The procedure worked well and now ten years later he is really fit and well. My grandfather also had prostate cancer, and with the increased risk to African Caribbean men, it seemed it would be a case of ‘when’ I got the disease, rather than ‘if.’”
Sealey subsequently became involved with the Prostate Cancer Charity as a trustee/ambassador, being keen to engage with African Caribbean men because he knew many would stay away from their doctor out of fear and embarrassment about having a prostate examination.
Sealey was having annual PSA tests, which stands for Prostate Specific Antigen, a simple blood test to reveal the amount of a protein which can be raised if the prostate is damaged or enlarged.
He missed his test in 2011, then a test in March 2012 revealed a raised PSA level, which his GP quickly alerted him to. He was referred to consultant urologist Alan Doherty at the Birmingham Prostate Clinic where further tests showed an 86 per cent likelihood of prostate cancer. A new type of biopsy revealed cancer on both sides of his prostate.
Sealey then had choices to make and was advised that surgery, rather than the less invasive brachytherapy was the better option for him, but the ultimate decision was his.
He went ahead with a radical prostatectomy (the removal of the whole prostate) in September at the BMI Priory Hospital in Edgbaston.
“I had no real problems with pain after surgery and was on my feet the next day,” says Sealey. “Incontinence is a real concern but I did my pelvic floor exercises religiously every day a month before my surgery to help support the bladder muscles. I’m pleased to say, right from the start, I’ve had no problem with leakage at all and was relieved to be told that no cancer cells have spread outside my prostate.
“At the age of 55, it’s important to know that the procedure you choose is not going to leave you with long term erectile dysfunction. Initial signs are that erectile recovery is good and will return in the months after surgery.
“The whole experience was challenging and it did knock me back, but I had tremendous support from my wife Audrey, family and friends both here and in Barbados.
“It made me reflect again on African Caribbean men. If you don’t see a doctor and have a PSA test – take that first small step – you may end up with an incurable disease and limited treatment options.
“The big barrier for African Caribbean men is having the prostate access via the rectal passage. This is a massive cause of embarrassment, reluctance and fear. In sharing my prostate cancer story my hope is that men in general, and African Caribbean men in particular, do not die of ignorance through not having the PSA and associated tests.”
Sealey’s surgeon Mr Doherty explained that many men have prostate cancer without any symptoms and unlike breast cancer it is not possible to see or feel any changes.
Some symptoms include more frequent urgency to empty the bladder or being unable to urinate properly.
“These symptoms can be due to prostate cancer, but they are more likely to be the result of prostate enlargement, which is not life threatening,” said Doherty.
“Anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor.
“The good news is that if your prostate cancer is caught early, before any cancer has spread to the prostate, cure rates are very high, at more than 95 per cent.”