Lusk prostate cancer survivor calls for more supports

by Sylvia Pownall

A prostate cancer survivor forced to pay thousands of euro for treatment abroad says not enough is being done to support male patients in Ireland.

Retired science teacher James Horgan, from Lusk, was dealt a hammer blow when he was told he had the disease in September, 2018.

And, like many of the 3,500 men in Ireland diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, the news came out of the blue as he had displayed no symptoms whatsoever.

The 72-year-old says he was given two options by consultants at Beaumont Hospital – to either have his prostate surgically removed, or to have a combination of hormone therapy and radiotherapy.

But James – a father of four, and grandfather of five – feared harrowing side effects and fought instead for proton therapy, a pioneering, pinpoint-accurate form of radiotherapy.

He was forced to raise €40,000 for his treatment in Prague after the option of proton therapy was blocked by both the State and his private medical insurer.

James, supported by his wife, Breda, is now calling for Irish patients to get better access to the technology.

He said: “It’s about making patients aware of all the options available to them, without trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

“But at no point in my journey did any consultant even mention proton therapy, a treatment with a wealth of scientific data to show that it’s effective.

“There wasn’t even a short line about proton therapy in any leaflet I was given.

“Not only does there need to be better awareness about proton therapy in Ireland – among both doctors and patients – but there needs to be much better access to it. Things need to change.”

In the end, James and Breda funded the entire treatment in Prague themselves, with James receiving 21 ‘fractions’ – or sessions – of proton beam radiotherapy last summer.

And while doctors now put him back in the ‘comfort’ zone, he hit out at the difficulty he faced trying to get a consultant’s referral for proton therapy abroad.

He added: “There’s something about the level of stress that gets into you when you’re trying to deal with a serious illness – it’s debilitating.

“I can now put that stress to one side and get on with my life.”

Planning permission was granted in 2018 for a €50 million proton centre in Kildare, but it has been bogged down in red tape.

Early symptoms of prostate cancer include an urgency to urinate more frequently, hesitancy when trying to wee, a weak flow, or blood in your urine or semen.

For further information, see https://protontherapy.ie.

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