Taxi for cancer: Cab driver Andy hails the day a fare saved his life

Taxi driver Andy Slater near his home in Musselburgh last week (Chris Austin / DC Thomson)
Taxi driver Andy Slater near his home in Musselburgh last week (Chris Austin / DC Thomson)

IT was a chance encounter in a taxi that saved Andy Slater’s life.

The 63-year-old cab driver from Musselburgh was taking an old friend on a short hire three years ago when their brief conversation turned to getting tested for prostate cancer.

Coincidentally, Andy was due at his GP’s surgery that day for a routine cholesterol blood test.

On his friend’s recommendation, he asked for a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test, a first step to diagnosing the disease available to men over 50.

Andy said: “I didn’t have any symptoms but my friend told me to ask for a blood sample from my prostate after he had the exact same chat with someone who’d been diagnosed that way.

“I decided to get it, not thinking for one second it was going to come back positive. But that’s exactly what happened.”

Andy wants to see more awareness raised among men to get checked early, as symptoms often don’t manifest until it’s too late.

He said: “I’m very lucky it was caught early.

“If it wasn’t for that encounter, I would never have thought to get checked and might not be still sitting here.”

A further biopsy in May 2015 confirmed the cancer had not spread outside his prostate gland.

Andy, then 60, went for a consultation at the Cancer Centre at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh to discuss various treatments.

These depend on individual circumstances and include radical prostatectomy surgery, which removes the whole prostate, and external beam radiotherapy.

Andy was advised to try permanent seed brachytherapy, a low dose-rate radiotherapy whereby tiny radioactive seeds are injected into the prostate. They release a steady dose of radiation that destroys cancer cells over several months.

“Radiotherapy treatment was impractical because I was working and I knew undergoing surgery to remove the gland could take a long time to recover,” said the divorced dad of one.

“I had the brachytherapy operation on a Friday and was out on Saturday.

“I did have symptoms afterwards, frequently going to the toilet and being in pain when I did, but it was part of the healing process and lessened over time.

“After six months my blood test revealed the treatment had been successful. Three years on, my PSA figures are low. I feel brand new and lucky I had that chance encounter.”

Adam Gaines, chief executive of Prostate Scotland, said: “Brachytherapy is one of the gold standard treatments for early prostate cancer and has cure rates equivalent to surgery and external beam radiotherapy.

“Many men in Scotland have had brachytherapy treatment but there’s a need for more information about it for men considering their treatment options.

“We need increased awareness of prostate cancer in Scotland because the earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chance of successful treatment.”

There are more than 26,000 men living with prostate cancer in Scotland, with 3,000 new cases every year.

In March, BBC Breakfast host Bill Turnbull revealed he had terminal cancer, which had spread from his prostate to his legs, pelvis and ribs. He advised men over 45 to get their prostate checked.

Andy believes information should be targeted at men aged over 50 who are most at risk.

“It’s not that men are embarrassed talking about prostate cancer, they just don’t know enough about it,” he said.

“You really need to catch it in your early 50s but there’s not enough conversation about it.

“I’d like to see information leaflets sent out to men to suggest they consider getting a blood test.”

Since his recovery, Andy’s been doing his bit to spread the word. “I’ve tried to speak to as many guys as I can: taxi drivers I meet in the rank, passengers, guys down the gym. If you catch it early it can make a huge difference.”

Visit prostatescotland.org.uk

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