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MSF's valuable contribution to prostate cancer research

Thursday, 04 September 2014

Lifting the worry

Each year, the Masonic Samaritan Fund and individual lodges contribute to prostate cancer research. The moving story of Freemason Ian Mcilquham and his family shows why this support is so vital, writes Andrew Gimson

In January this year, Ian Mcilquham saw some posters about prostate cancer. He had no symptoms, but his father and another member of his family had suffered from it, so he decided that it would be a good idea to go for a blood test. The result showed that he had a raised level of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), which can indicate the presence of the disease. A biopsy, carried out at the University Hospital of Wales, later confirmed that Ian had prostate cancer. 

As he was only fifty-two years old, Ian decided to undergo a radical prostatectomy – the removal of the prostate gland. However, the NHS in Wales only offers this procedure as an open (more invasive) operation, and Ian was told it could have bad side-effects – including incontinence, erectile dysfunction and being unlikely to be able to go back to work. His consultant advised him to have a robotic (less invasive) operation that is available from the NHS in some hospitals in England.

Because Ian lives in Wales, the only way to have this procedure in England would be at a private hospital, which would be very expensive. A member of Juventus Lodge, No. 8105, in South Wales Province, Ian works as a radiographer, and his wife, Penny, is a specialist nurse. They have three children: Kinsey, aged seventeen, Jourdain, aged fifteen and Kai, aged eleven – who at first was worried his father would die from the disease. 

Ian approached the Masonic Samaritan Fund for help. On the day he telephoned, the Fund emailed him back with authorisation for a private consultation in Bristol.

In Ian’s words, ‘The relief was unbelievable.’ The MSF then swiftly approved the funding application for his operation. ‘It wasn’t just the financial support from the MSF that helped, it was also the emotional support offered to me and my family. Lifting this worry was of greater importance, in some ways, than the financing of the surgery – they helped the entire family unit.’ 

Complete success

With his lodge providing support, Ian remembers that it was ‘weird’ having a major operation while feeling fine, but he knew that the longer he waited for treatment, the more likely it was that the cancer would spread. Five weeks after having the operation, laboratory analysis of his prostate tissue revealed that the surgery had been a complete success. Ian will now be monitored by an NHS hospital and his GP, meaning that he can focus on getting strong enough to return to work.

Richard Douglas, Chief Executive of the MSF, explains his charity’s approach: ‘We fund people who have a positive diagnosis, but can’t get the treatment they require on the NHS in a reasonable timescale.’ 

The MSF helps masons and their dependants, aiming to respond quickly in order to alleviate the anxiety of waiting. The charity is able to fund the cost of treatment for most eligible applications, and is also able to consider requests for research funding.

To save the lives of men with prostate cancer, early diagnosis is essential. Unfortunately, the PSA test does not always turn out to be correct. ‘Accurate diagnosis is the starting point to help men survive and have a better quality of life post-treatment,’ explains Richard. ‘With over 10,000 men dying each year from this disease, it’s time to give the experts the resources they need to beat prostate cancer for good.’

‘With over 10,000 men dying each year from this disease, it’s time to give the experts the resources they need to beat prostate cancer.’ Richard Douglas

The MSF has donated £34,625 to Prostate Cancer UK and has helped fund a research project at Cambridge University by Dr Hayley Whitaker, lead scientist of the Biomarker Initiative. She explains that the PSA test can detect lots of things that aren’t cancer, such as an enlarged prostate gland or inflammation. Moreover, only one in four cancers will become aggressive. 

Whitaker and her team of four researchers are trying to find new markers they can use to improve the PSA test. Their aim is to come up with half a dozen markers that will help provide a more accurate diagnosis. It may then be possible to avoid having a rectal examination, and, for some men, to avoid having a biopsy. 

The team at Cambridge have found a number of markers that are very promising, including two that identify patients who are more likely to relapse following surgery. ‘This means we can watch these patients more closely and attack the cancer harder,’ Whitaker explains, adding that the donation from the MSF has made a huge difference. ‘It’s given us such a great opportunity to do the work and we’re incredibly grateful.’

Gabriella Bailey, head of community fundraising at Prostate Cancer UK, is keen to raise the awareness of the disease, which has been far less intensively researched than many other forms of cancer. 

‘Every one of the masonic lodges that’s raised money for Prostate Cancer UK is part of this movement for men, and we’re incredibly grateful for the support,’ says Bailey. ‘Since 2005, local masonic lodges have raised £476,000 for Prostate Cancer UK – a fantastic contribution to the work we’re doing.’

Between one hundred and one hundred and thirty lodges a year support Prostate Cancer UK, which employs a group of specialist nurses to provide support through a free telephone, email and web chat service and who are able to answer questions about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. In the UK, around one in eight men will get this disease. If you have any concerns, the Prostate Cancer UK website is a great place to start.

For more information about the disease and giving support, please visit www.prostatecanceruk.org