A massive shock – but it didn’t stop the wedding

Chris Herd and his wife Jean at home in Hackenthorpe
Chris Herd and his wife Jean at home in Hackenthorpe

CHRIS and Jean Herd were organising the details of their wedding when the warning signs were spotted.

They were shocked to discover that Chris had prostate cancer, even though he was only 52.

The wedding went ahead, Chris had treatment and surgery and was able to return to work as a self-employed printer.

But the experience has left its mark on the Hackenthorpe couple, not least their desire to encourage others to watch for the symptoms of prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men in the UK, and to act on them.

In particular, Jean wants to encourage women to learn about prostate cancer so that they can encourage their partners to visit the doctor.

It was Chris’s daughter, Sarah, a nurse, who played a crucial part.

Jean said: “Chris had no symptoms other than going to the loo in the night more often than usual – he always said it was just old age, though.

“His daughter wanted him to have a general ‘well man’ check-up as he had turned 50 and convinced him to get a general health check just to make sure that everything was alright.

“I told him that he should get a test for prostate cancer whilst he was at it. His GP was reluctant to give him the test, saying that he was too young and had no other symptoms.”

At that point, neither Jean nor Chris had even heard of a prostate-specific antigen or PSA test, which measures the levels of the protein produced in the prostate gland.

But they convinced the doctor to carry it out. Chris’ PSA levels were found to be elevated but no further action was taken.

“We weren’t overly concerned. We just thought that if there was anything wrong they would come back to us.”

It was only when he returned to the doctor with another problem that Chris was retested and the seriousness of the situation began to emerge.

As the wedding date neared, Chris had more tests and eventually a biopsy at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

Jean, aged 52, says: “It was a nerve-wracking time. But there were plenty of things on our mind at the time – not least a wedding to plan. I think we thought it was just one of those routine things. He was still young, you don’t really think of it happening when you’re that age.”

When the diagnosis was made, it was “devastating”. At least there was the assurance that time was on their side and various treatment options were available.

“I think we were both in shock,” says Jean. “You hear that word ‘cancer’ and you think that’s it, there’s nothing else left. How long is it going to take to die?

“We were meant to be looking to the future and making plans together and then suddenly we had this to deal with.”

Doctors agreed to delay treatment until after the wedding at the Sheffield Park Hotel at Meadowhead in March 2007.

Jean, who met Chris on the internet two years before they were married, said: “We were able to put everything out of our head for that day. And we had a wonderful time.”

After a honeymoon in Finland, Chris had a brachytherapy implant fitted – radioactive seeds inserted in the prostate where they work for up to two years.

Within a week of the surgery, Chris was back at work.

Although there were some side-effects, Chris’s six monthly PSA checks continue to indicate that the battle is being won.

“We feel very lucky that things have turned out the way they have,” says Jean. “But we want people to be aware of the signs and to be knowledgable about things like PSA tests.

“Because of what we have both gone through I feel I want to try and help others by sharing my experiences. I think men should be more aware and willing to talk about these things, rather than treating them as a taboo.

“And I feel that being a female and speaking out might help other women to learn about prostate cancer too, and then maybe they can badger their partners into visiting the doctor if they need to.”

lThe Prostate Cancer Charity runs a confidential helpline on 0800 074 8383; Visit www.prostate-cancer.org.uk.