Leonard in Drive to Save Lives

25 March 2016

Leonard Brereton, aged 61 from Antrim is married to Irene and has two grown up children, Richard (30) and Amy (28). He is sharing his story of prostate cancer to encourage men to be aware of signs and symptoms and to go to their GP if they have any concerns.

New figures just released from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry state that on average 1,049 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and that it is the most common cancer in men. Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death amongst males in NI, with an average of 251 deaths per year. The good news is that early detection can saves lives so the sooner symptoms are presented to a GP, the greater chance of survival.

Leonard’s prostate cancer diagnosis led him to move away from a career in lorry driving to become an Action Cancer Big Bus Driver, bringing the charity’s life saving services to communities throughout Northern Ireland.

Leonard explains his story, “My knees were giving me bother so I decided to visit my GP a week before I was due to go on holiday to Florida with the family back in 2009. My GP asked me was there anything else I wanted to talk about. I happened to mention that when I need to pee that I couldn’t wait the way that I used to, that I was running to the toilet a couple of times in the night. My symptoms had run on for about 6 months but I had just put it down to my age.”

Leonard did a PSA blood test there and then on suggestion from his doctor as a precautionary measure: “I then went on holiday and thought no more of it. I felt great; I hadn’t really had any real health problems before so I thought there was nothing wrong with me.”

When Leonard returned from America the doctor’s surgery got in touch asking him to repeat the PSA test as the result of the first test was quite high with a result of 5. When the test was repeated the result came in at 9; “Because the result had nearly doubled,” explains Leonard, “the wheels then came into motion and I was referred to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine to have a biopsy and further investigation.”

“Even after my hospital appointment I was still quite calm about the whole thing. I was in the prime of my life, on the gravy train. I had a great job as a lorry driver; I had my house paid off and the car, no big outgoings and I wanted to retire when I was 60. I had seen people dying over the years, people go bankrupt, and marriages break down. I on the other hand was in a fortunate position and I had my life all planned out.”

This all changed when Leonard got a call to say could he come back to the hospital and bring someone with him; “That’s when the alarm bells started to ring. A spanner had been thrown into the works any my whole life was turned upside down.”

Leonard was then diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 54; “I enquired about my options and was told that I only had one- major surgery and I had to have it very soon otherwise in six months it would be too late.”

Leonard had keyhole surgery and the whole operation which took 8.5 hours successfully removed the cancer in full. The recovery process was quite slow and Leonard had to take 3 months off work.

Leonard continues, “I am now six years cancer free and my message to other men is this- don’t die of ignorance. Don’t think just you are invincible. Cancer can strike at any time, it’s important to know your body and present any unusual symptoms to your GP as soon as you spot them to increase your chances of survival. I’m glad I went to the doctor when I did. It doesn’t bare thinking about what could have easily happened to me if I had continued to ignore my symptoms.”

Leonard had worked for a petrol company for 27 years and when he had to take time out to deal with the prostate cancer his outlook on life changed: “Every company I had worked for before had been profits based so when I went back to work I lost heart in it, I didn’t enjoy it anymore and thought there was a different path for me. That’s when the opportunity to work as Action Cancer’s Big Bus Driver came up and I thought yes that’s just right for me; it’s time to give something back. I’m also working with Action Cancer as a Peer Mentor, supporting men to deal with a cancer diagnosis. I’m happy to be alive, thankful to be here and to be helping others in the fight against cancer.”