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Don't wait when it comes to health, warns cancer survivor

Had Nigel Richardson not been as vigilant about his health, his cancer journey might have ended differently.

It’s a story he will likely share with people around the world as Bermuda's Relay for Life 2022 Global Hero of Hope.

He steps into the role having spent years volunteering for the cause and spreading the same message whenever he can: when it comes to your health, don’t wait.

"Because if you wait, if you're putting your health against dollars and cents and you wait, you know what the end result is going to be," said Mr Richardson, who learnt that he had prostate cancer in 2010.

"The end result is never going to be good. So, even if you can't afford major medical, go for the minimal check-up. If you have minimum coverage, go to the free clinic. Just go and get checked because that check could really save your life."

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is a common disease that usually affects older men. The average age at diagnosis is 65.

Mr Richardson was 39 when a routine physical turned up an unexpected blood test result. At that age, there is a 1-in-100,000 chance of having the disease.

Because he was a non-smoker who didn’t drink much alcohol and was also an avid runner, his doctor thought that something had skewed his results. However, a second set of tests six months later came back with the same reading.

He was sent to urologist Charles Dyer for a biopsy, which determined prostate cancer.

"That was November," said Mr Richardson, who was then the youngest man reported as having the disease in Bermuda and still remembers the "shock" he felt on receiving the news.

"I sat there wondering what was going to happen. [By then I was] 40. All my life everybody had referred to prostate cancer as an old man's disease. You expect it when you're old — you don’t expect it when you're young. It really was a shocker. It really just kicked the wind right out of my sails."

He added: "I was doing 10Ks, I was eating pretty good, there weren’t any of the symptoms that come with prostate cancer — getting up in the middle of the night ten times because you can't pee. I had none of that. It just didn’t add up."

Dr Dyer laid out several options which ranged from waiting to see how the disease progressed to different methods of dealing with it. Eager to have it "gone", Mr Richardson opted for da Vinci, a robotic surgical system which was then in its infancy.

"I figured why not? Let's go with that one."

Mariana Kaplan, a specialist in the process, just happened to be in Bermuda at the time visiting patients at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

"I literally left Dr Dyer's office, walked straight cross the street, sat with her and before I left she had referred me to Dr Jim Hu, who was her understudy at Brigham in Boston, and I had my appointment booked. Everything was laid out."

Two months later, in March 2011, Mr Richardson flew to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts for what turned out to be a successful surgery.

Back in Bermuda, he began "living life" albeit with "a little change in diet".

"They don’t want you to eat certain things because the sugars are cancerous — all the [refined foods]," he said. "So I did that for the first couple of years and I was flying back and forth to Dr Hu every couple of months for a check-up. And then one day I just had a real talk with him: 'Doc, this ain't working for me. I'll just do moderation'. And that’s how I've been living my life since."

Five years later Mr Richardson was given the all-clear.

"Once it remains at this percentage which they call 'undetectable in your blood', the chance of that coming back, they say, is zero. It doesn’t mean that I won't get another form of cancer — that’s always possible — but the prostate cancer itself will not return for me."

However, out of concern for his two sons, aged 8 and 23, Mr Richardson began researching his health history.

"That’s when I found that on my mother's side of the family — my grandfather, my uncles, my cousin, one of my brothers — my other brother died of leukaemia so we don’t know, but every man that I know of so far on my mother's side of the family has had it. But I didn’t know that beforehand. Nobody ever talked about it. I knew about my grandfather because I used to live with him so I used to see him with the bag and whatnot. He never complained, he never talked about it but he was up in age, it was expected."

Although Black men have the highest incidence of prostate cancer, "it's one of those things that nobody wants to talk about, especially Black people, Black men".

Mr Richardson believes that many link it to their masculinity. He began volunteering with Relay for Life to help to change that view.

"Black men don’t want to go to the doctor as it is. No one wants to have somebody put their finger up their rear end," he said. "I tell people I had my surgery ten years ago but I have an eight-year-old son. So if you think about it, if you do the math, that should tell you something.

"So that’s been my ride the last ten years, just trying to advocate every time I run into a group of guys. It doesn’t matter, Black, white, young or old, I just try to get them to go to the doctor, to go get checked, to raise the awareness of it all."

Regular check-ups are important as early diagnosis increases the chance of a successful treatment, said Mr Richardson, a digital forensics officer with the Bermuda Police Service.

"It is a slow disease. I have two colleagues whose fathers passed. When they found out they were Stage Four and six months later they were dead. If you wait too long or don’t get checked, by the time you do go, it's too late. It's not much they can do for you."

Come next year it is a message he will be repeating over and over again as one of the 27 people around the world selected as a Global Hero of Hope.

"There are a lot of men who [don’t have regular check-ups] but mainly Black men. The other cultures seem to go to doctors more and look after themselves. When you go to the grocery store, the people that are grabbing the [prepared meals] — it's normally us. Everyone else is in the fresh food, the produce and whatnot. So it's almost like trying to change a mindset but it's hard to change a mindset when they are looking at dollars and cents."

https://www.royalgazette.com/wellness/lifestyle/article/20211115/dont-wait-when-it-comes-to-health-warns-cancer-survivor/

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