Sandy Brown

Penile cancer

Picture of Sandy BrownThe following gives a valuable insight into an incredibly rare journey of a very inspirational man and highlights the challenges the NHS faces when dealing with such a rare form of cancer.  Orchid is working hard to increase awareness and education of this disease amongst the public and healthcare professionals.

In 2007 I was diagnosed with penile cancer – a very rare type of cancer. After I noticed a growth on my penis I started to read up on the likely causes, I was hoping it was some kind of wart and as you can imagine this is very embarassing and I put off going to the doctor for almost one year.

Finally, I went to the see my GP and told him that I suspected that I had penile cancer. He admitted that as it is such a rare cancer he had no experience in the field and had never come across a case before. He then sent me to see a specialist, who said that a small section of the tissue would need to be cut of by an operation and then analysed to make a diagnosis.

I’d read up about it online and all sorts went through my mind – I could see how rare it was and it did scare me.  But it also told me I had a reasonable chance of getting through it – the problem was I’d left it too long!  I kept thinking it couldn’t be that serious, but I’d used up quite a lot of time by that point and it had spread.  As the treatment was going on I started feeling more hopeful and positive.  The system’s excellent and everyone really helped out.

 I’m proof that there is light at the end of the tunnel!

I am a very strong person, but a mixture of difficult circumstances all came together at once and I was struggling to come to terms with my situation. Firstly, I decided not to tell my wife as I knew she could not cope. I went to hospital without telling her. I then suffered one of the most painful experiences of my life as the local anaesthetic they injected had little effect.

I am the Managing Director of my own business and I employ over fifty people.  I felt I could not let it be local knowledge that I had cancer, especially to the dreaded Bank. Banks can be just as dangerous to your health as most cancers! My business was struggling to recover from the very brink of bankrupsy due to another company going bust, leaving me with losses of nearly half a million pounds. I was correct in not letting the Bank know about my illness, but very wrong not to tell my wife as she had to find out at some point. I decided to tell my son, daughter and wife and also my next in command at work. Though I made it quite clear that my condition was to be kept a secret.

Trying to be brave at this time is very difficult, especially when I pushed my Doctor for an honest answer as to how long I would have if I was to be one of the unlucky ones – he told me I could only have six months. I used to feel very sorry for myself in the small hours of the morning. Once my treatment started all these feelings changed as I realised just how lucky I was. I may have suffered during my first session of surgery, but I was repaid one hundred times over with the expert treatment I received from Doctor Roland Donat, Consultant Urological Surgeon, Western General Hospital Edinburgh.

While I am naturally biased with my appreciation of Doctor Roland (he did save my life) it is a view that is widely shared by his staff. On countless occasions he was like a one-man-army, trying to sort out so many things. Doctor Roland sorted everything out, then went on to tell me all about the operation he was about to carry out on me as he wheeled me to theatre.

Sandy Brown running a marathonI decided to get myself as fit as possible and try to fight back. I had already stopped smoking many years ago and I have now been T-total for seven years after almost becoming an alcoholic drinking two litres of whisky a week.  But now I watch my diet and really appreciate life – I feel like I’ve had a narrow escape.  I started running and eventually completed a marathon. To date I have completed three marathons and I am running in this years Baxters Marathon at Loch Ness.

Every time I complete a marathon I send Doctor Roland a photograph of me going over the finish line to remind him of the good work he does and the countless lives he saves – he truly is an exceptional man.

Four years after my treatment and my health and business continue to improve. I feel I am a better person after going through cancer. Employing a workforce of over fifty and taking into account all their partners, families and friends, cancer by the law of averages could sadly strike my workforce many times. I often have to offer advice to my employees, and I am sure they often think that if I can survive cancer then they also have an equal chance.

If you notice any symptoms what so ever go to your doctor straight away – as soon as you think there may be a problem – because the clock is ticking all the time, and keep a healthy lifestyle because it does help your chances.  I’m proof that there is light at the end of the tunnel!

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