I started this Blog after being diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in 2010. It was a way of keeping family and friends informed. It then became a campaigning tool helping to make improvements in hospitals nationally. In 2013 we moved to Johannesburg, setting up our own e-education company. Now we have moved to Bangkok, a great base to explore SE Asia. After surgery 7 years ago my PSA remains at zero, the cancer is still undetectable, and I remain thankful.
Martin died at Eastbourne General Hospital in England at 5 pm on 16th February 2018, his partner Naty and his daughter Laura at his side.
Martin and I had often joked about death, I guess when you get to a certain age that’s all you can do. We agreed that whoever died first would wait to meet the other, wherever that was, we didn’t profess to know. We did agree that all organised religion was a crazy man-made invention, designed to control populations and that we were going to rise above that. He was a genuinely nice guy of the traditional school, loved crap jokes, loved his partner Naty, his daughter Laura, and loved life with all his heart.
He was intrigued by the idea of writing and always interested in what I was working on next, often contributing ideas when I was stuck with an imagination that knew no bounds. I often told him that if he went first, I’d write about him, he’d laugh, I can still see the smile, hear the chuckle. “What’s to write about?” he’d say, little knowing that his last 6 months would provide a story that could save the lives of others, if only I could get the message across.
So, the $10,000 question now is, if Martin had had medical insurance, would he still be with us today? Maybe, maybe not, you decide… (he’d have liked that)
Naty and Martin
Martin had been with Naty for nearly 3 years, meeting on the Internet, as my wife and I had 10 years before. She was from the Philippines, mine from Yorkshire, very similar cultures and food, so I’m told! Like any couple they went out, often with us, had fun, smiled a lot, enjoyed holidays and looked forward, as many do, to a future full of things that make life worth living. After a visit to England, Martin was delighted that his family seemed to have accepted Naty and he’d also decided that Bangkok would be his future home as he loved it here. He had dozens of friends made mainly through the Bangkok English Speakers Lunch Group, where he was an ever-popular Event Host.
Decisions we make every day can affect the rest of our lives, we all know that. Some of those decisions seem so minor at the time, not even fully thought out, even though they can go on to have long-term catastrophic consequences. So, when Martin had a bad cough, after delaying perhaps a little longer than he should have, he decided to get checked out at his nearest hospital, also knowing that it was far less expensive than many others nearby.
His cough, became a chest infection, then pneumonia and in a surprisingly short time, he was hooked up on life support, knowing he had no medical insurance, but hoping he would get better, soon. Naty and I were with him when his heart stopped, the monitor flat lined and the alarm came on. He was essentially dead for a few minutes before the doctors brought him back, we were in a state of shock, unable to take in what had just happened, I’ll never forget that! The worse part about that hospital were the accountants, the most important department in any hospital here because you have to pay if you want treatment to continue. They would come to his bed every Friday to take his credit card, like uncaring robots, maybe they were!
Martin with his daughter, Laura
Martin’s daughter Laura flew over to support Natty and began the long process of trying to get her father better while trying to fund the process; something that proved extremely arduous.
A family decision was made to move Martin to a better hospital, even though far more expensive, a place with a specialist chest unit. Nobody was aware until that point that the hospital he was in was not equipped to look after someone in his condition! It’s alright to say in hindsight that Martin should have gone to this better hospital first, but he didn’t and I would have probably done the same given the circumstances, but at least now his chances of recovery would surely improve? He did recover and was eventually discharged, though extremely weak and still looking very unwell. He wanted to be fit enough to fly back to England where he could not only have free treatment under the National Health Service but could also be closer to friends and family. This came about eventually and he and Naty flew back to a bitter winter in England but a very warm welcome from his daughter Laura, who had single-handedly refurbished his flat as a welcome home surprise. Martin was over the moon! He started the process to ensure Naty’s visa and was soon making plans for a return to Bangkok, convinced he could now get the best treatment and make a full recovery.
The cost to Martin of his experience in Bangkok was over 2 million Baht, and would later also cost him his life, because on his return to his home country he was constantly in and out of hospital, struggling to regain health, tragically, eventually losing that battle.
Naty stayed for the funeral, over a month after Martin’s death, such are the winter queues at the crematoriums. Her visa would have run out soon after so she was lucky in many ways not to have that as an added problem. However, back in the Philippines now, trying to pick up the pieces of her life, she has discovered that she wasn’t even named in Martin’s will. She’s shocked, bewildered and mainly lost for words as she comes to terms with her situation, best described as dire, the past 3 years just fond memories.
Martin often told me that if anything happened to him, Naty would be well taken care of, and I know he loved her and meant that, so what went wrong? I guess it was just one of those things that we all intend to do, but don’t ever get around to, because it never becomes top of our list, and hey, we’re never going to die, are we? Solicitors in England are now trying to sort out some support for Naty from Martin’s estate, and are hopeful of a good outcome, but until then, she has to rely on friends and relatives for essential support.
Martin, now’s your chance, come on, what advice would you give anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to what you’ve just experienced?
“Daniel me old mate, firstly they should at least have some basic medical cover, but if they haven’t, as many expats don’t, still avoid going for the cheapest hospital, it could work out far more expensive in the long term. Secondly, if they have a partner who they love and care about deeply, make sure they provide for them in their will; especially if they have nothing! Thirdly, thanks for the promised write-up, I’ll do the same for you one day if I ever get out of this place!”
Don’t worry Martin, we’ll look after Naty, take a rest and hang around for me, though I might be some time yet; I hope!
Ultrasound technique overcomes problems with current methods to diagnose the most common cancer in men.
Electron microscope image of prostate cancer cells. Photograph: Electron Microscopy Unit, Cancer/Getty Images/Visuals Unlimited
Scientists have announced the development of a highly accurate and reliable technique for diagnosing prostate cancer. The Dundee University-based team say they have used an ultrasound process called shear wave elastography (SWE) to detect prostate tumours. The method is non-invasive and cheaper than current detection techniques.
Prostate cancer has become the most common cancer in men in the UK. One in eight men will develop the condition at some point in their lives with more than 47,000 new cases being diagnosed every year. Men aged 50 or over, men with a family history of prostate cancer, and black men are at greatest risk of developing the condition.
“Current diagnosis of prostate cancer is extremely inefficient, leading to unnecessary treatments for many patients,” said the Dundee University team’s leader, Professor Ghulam Nabi. “Our new method is far more accurate and also allows us to identify the difference between cancerous and benign tissue in the prostate without the need for invasive surgery.”
The prostate is a small gland in the male reproductive system and is normally about the shape and size of a walnut. Current methods for determining if a prostate has become cancerous include a physical examination of the prostate (known as a digital rectal examination or DRE), MRI scans, a biopsy or tests to determine levels of the chemical prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.
Each carries problems. PSA results can be unreliable; a DRE is not good at identifying which cancers are benign and which need treatment; MRI scans cannot always give a definitive answer; while a biopsy carries a risk of infection and is expensive.
The new method aims to get round the problems by targeting the prostate with ultrasound. Cancerous tissue is stiffer than normal tissue so shear waves are slowed as they pass through a tumour.
“We have been able to show a stark difference in results between our technology and existing techniques such as MRI,” added Nabi. “The technique has picked up cancers which MRI did not reveal. We can now see with much greater accuracy what tissue is cancerous, where it is and what level of treatment it needs. This is a significant step forward.”
The trial tests involved around 200 patients. “Now we need to use this on a wider scale to build more data but there is clearly the potential to really change the way we manage prostate cancer,” Nabi said.
SWE technology is already used in diagnosing breast cancer and liver diseases. However, to make it applicable to prostate cancer a special probe had to be developed by the team.
“The technique now needs to be tested in a much larger number of men to confirm just how well it can detect the aggressive cancers, while also ruling out those who do not have prostate cancer,” said Simon Grieveson, head of research funding at Prostate Cancer UK, which funded the Dundee project (with support from the Movember Foundation).
“With an average of one man dying every 45 minutes from prostate cancer in the UK, the need for a more reliable test that can identify dangerous forms of the disease earlier is greater than ever.”
In the past few years, a number of celebrities have revealed that they had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and have joined campaigns to raise awareness of the disease, including Michael Parkinson, Ian McKellen and most recently Stephen Fry, the comedian and former rector of Dundee University, who this year described how he had surgery to deal with a prostate tumour.
“This breakthrough comes at a time when prostate cancer is being pushed to the forefront of our consciousness in the UK, not least because of the disturbing upward trend in its prevalence,” said Fry. “It is therefore doubly exciting to hear of the new techniques in diagnostic imaging.
The past week I've been suffering from vertigo and as it wasn't getting any better, I decided to play safe and see a specialist.
In the UK I would have made an appointment to see my doctor, maybe got to see him/her the week after if lucky, then they would have referred me; the whole process taking perhaps around 6-12 months; though if they suspected cancer it would be rushed through in 18-20 weeks; as I once was!
I went privately in Bangkok today, made the appointment at 8 am this morning, saw the specialist at 9 am and by 10.30 am was going home with the results of the tests and necessary meds. Just a build-up of calcium in the middle ear, nothing too serious, but could as easily been worse! Total cost = £38.50
Which system would you prefer to be in? You won't have a choice soon in the UK because private medicine will be all that's left and unless you're wealthy, your life will one day end because you couldn't afford to live!
Within the 'World Cancer Community,' you'll often come across some extremely interesting and dedicated people, who after diagnosis give up a large amount of time to help others. One such person, Joe Bakhmoutski, lives in Melbourne and contacted me recently to record a podcast, which I was only too happy to do. It was rather strange going over what happened over 7 years ago, but it also brought home to me how lucky I was and still am to be here in this wonderful world.
In this episode, I’m talking to Daniel Sencier who shares his perspective in battling prostate cancer, dealing with a broken health system and finding new meaning and a new way of life despite cancer. Here’s what you're going to find out in this interview:
The hammer-blow of your diagnosis
How to deal with a broken system if you fall through the cracks
Why starting a blog can help you deal with cancer
The importance of gathering the facts about your cancer
Why some folks disappear from your life when they find out about your cancer
Compassion is one of the most revered qualities in Buddhism and great compassion is a sign of a highly realized human being.
Compassion doesn’t just help the world at large, and it isn’t just about the fact that it’s the right thing to do. Compassion, and seeking to understand those around you, can transform your life for a number of reasons.
First, self-compassion is altogether critical towards finding peace within yourself. By learning to forgive yourself and accepting that you’re human you can heal deep wounds bring yourself back from difficult challenges.
Next, we can often be tortured because of the fact that we don’t completely understand why people do certain things.
Compassion is understanding the basic goodness in all people and then seeking to discover that basic goodness in specific people. Because of this, it helps you from going through the often-mental torture we experience because we don’t understand the actions of others.
But even more than that, expressing compassion is the very act of connecting wholeheartedly with others, and simply connecting in this way can be a great source of joy for us.
The reasons for practicing compassion are numerous and powerful. Seek to live in a way that you treat everyone you meet as you would yourself. Once you begin trying to do this, it will seem altogether impossible. But keep at it, and you’ll realize the full power of living with compassion.
2. Connect with others and nurture those connections
In Buddhism, a community of practitioners is called a “sangha”. A sangha is a community of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen who practice together in peace towards the united “goal” of realizing greater awakening, not only for themselves but for all beings.
The sangha is a principle which much of the world can greatly benefit from. People come together in groups all the time, but it’s usually for the purpose of creating monetary riches or obtaining substantial power and rarely towards the united goal of attaining peace, happiness, and realizing greater wisdom.
The principle of the sangha can be expressed in your own life in many ways. The sangha is ultimately just one way of looking at life, through the lens of the individual “expressions” of the totality.
By living in a way that you’re fully aware of the power of connecting with others, whether it’s one person or a group of 100, and seeking to nurture those relationships in the appropriate way, you can transform your life in ways that will pay dividends for years to come.
3. Wake up
One of the most powerful points on this list, the power of simply living in a way that you’re fully awake to every moment of your life pretty much couldn’t be exaggerated even if I tried.
Mindfulness, greater awareness, paying attention, whatever you want to call it- it changes every facet of your life and in every way. It’s as simple as that.
Strive to live fully awake to each moment of your daily life and overcome your greatest personal struggles, find a great sense of peace and joy, and realize the greatest lessons life can teach you as a result of living fully awake to the present moment.1
4. Live deeply
To live deeply, in a way that you become keenly aware of the precious nature of life, is to begin down the path of true peace and happiness.
Why? Because to live in this way is to gradually become aware of the true nature of the world. This will happen essentially in “sections” of the whole, such as realizing your interconnectedness (you begin to see how everything is connected to everything else) and impermanence (you begin to see how everything is ever-changing, constantly dying only to be reborn in another form).
These realizations are the bread and butter of Buddhism and all spiritual practice. These “sections of the whole” are fragments of the ultimate realization, ways for us to understand that which can’t be fully understood in the traditional sense.
By living in a way that you seek to realize these various “qualities of the ultimate” you find greater and greater peace in realizing the natural way of things. This cultivates in us the ability to savor every moment of life, to find peace in even the most mundane activities, as well as the ability to transform your typically “negative” experiences into something altogether nourishing and healing.
5. Change yourself, change the world
Buddhists understand that you can hardly help another before you help yourself. But this isn’t referring to you gaining power or riches before you can help others, or live in a way that you ignore others.
This is mostly referring to the fact that because we’re all interconnected, by you helping yourself you create an exponentially positive effect on the rest of the world.
If you want to make an impact on the world, don’t falsely convince yourself that it’s “you or them”. You don’t need to drag yourself through the mud to help those around you. If you do this, you’ll greatly hamper your ability to create a positive impact.
At the deepest level of understanding, by making it about you, you’re also making it about them because you know there’s no separating “you” and “them”.
Take care of yourself and seek to be more than just a help, but an example of how to live for others to follow and you'll create waves of exponential possibility that inspires others to do the same.
6. Embrace death
Death is an often-taboo topic in Western society. We do everything we can to not only avoid the subject but pretend that it doesn’t even exist.
The reality is, this is really unfortunate and in no way helps us lead better lives. Becoming keenly aware of your own impermanence and deeply understanding the nature of death with regards to our interconnectedness are both things which can help us find great peace.
In Buddhism, students in many sects at one point or another “meditate on the corpse” as it were (a practice which is said to have originated at least as far back as the Buddha’s lifetime).
This is literally what it sounds like. They meditate on the image of a corpse slowing decomposing and imagine that process through to its end, eventually resulting in a deep and profound realization of the true nature of death.
That might sound a little intense to you, but the truth is if you live your entire life acting as if you’re never going to die or ignoring your own impermanence then you won’t ever be able to find true peace within yourself.
You don’t necessarily have to meditate on the image of a corpse, but simply opening up to yourself about death so that you’re no longer shielding it from your mind (which you’re likely doing unconsciously, as that’s how most of us were brought up in the West) can begin to be a great source of peace and help you appreciate the many joys in your everyday life.
A true appreciation for life can never be fully realized until you come face-to-face with your own impermanence. But once you do this, the world opens up in a new and profound way.
7. Your food is (very) special
Buddhist meditative practice, particularly mindfulness and contemplation, helps you realize the precious nature of the food in front of you. Indeed, with how integral a part food plays in our lives, to transform our relationship with food is to transform a key aspect of our entire lives, both now and in the future.
By contemplating on the food in front of us, for example, we can come to realize the vast system of interconnectedness that is our life, and how our food comes to be on our dinner plate as it is depended on numerous elements coming to be.
This helps us to deepen our relationship with food, cultivate a deep sense of gratitude before each meal, and learn to respect the delicate but ever-pressing balance that is life.
8. Understand the nature of giving
Giving is more than the act of giving Christmas and Birthday gifts, it’s also about those gifts which we give each and every day which we don’t typically see as gifts at all.
Buddhists hold a very deep understanding of the nature of giving, particularly in that life is a constant play between the act of giving and receiving. This doesn’t just help us find peace in understanding the way of the world around us but helps us realize the amazing gifts we all have within us that we can give others in every moment, such as our love, compassion, and presence.
9. Work to disarm the ego
The easiest way to sum up all “spiritual” practice is this: spirituality is the act of coming in touch with the ultimate reality or the ground of being, and as a result, spiritual practice is the act of overcoming those obstacles which keep us from realizing that.
The primary obstacle in our way? The Ego.
To put it short and sweet, the reason the ego is the major obstacle in spiritual practice, or simply the practice of finding true peace and happiness (whatever you choose to call it, it’s all the same), is because its very function is to pull you away from the ground of your being by convincing you that you’re this separate self.
The process of unraveling the ego can take time, as it’s something which has been with us, intertwined with us, for years. But it’s infinitely rewarding and altogether necessary if we want to realize our best life.
10. Remove the 3 poisons
Life is filled with vices, things which attempt to bind us to unwholesome ways of living and therefore do the very opposite of cultivating peace, joy, and greater realization in our lives. Among these, the 3 poisons are some of the most powerful. The 3 poisons are:
Together, these 3 poisons are responsible for the majority of the pain and suffering we experience as a collective species. It’s perfectly normal to be affected by each of these poisons throughout your life, so don’t knock yourself for falling for them.
Instead, simply accept that they’re something you’re experiencing and begin working to remove them from your life. This can take time, but it’s a key aspect on the path towards realizing true peace and happiness.
11. Right livelihood
We should all strive to work and make our living in a way that’s more “conscious” or aware. This generally means not selling harmful items such as guns, drugs, and services that harm other people, but it goes deeper than that.
There are ultimately two aspects to this: making a living by doing something which doesn’t inhibit your own ability to realize peace and making a living doing something which doesn’t inhibit others ability to realize peace.
Facing this can lead to some interesting situations for some people, and as Thich Nhat Hanh has mentioned this is a collective effort as opposed to a solely personal one (the butcher isn’t a butcher only because he decided to be, but because there is a demand from people for meat to be neatly packaged and made available for them to be purchased from supermarkets), but you should strive to do your best.
Following the teaching on right livelihood can help you realize the harmful effect that your own work is having on you and therefore coming up with a solution can result in a largely positive shift in your life as a whole. Only you can decide if a change needs to happen though.
Whatever the case, seek to make a living doing something that promotes the peace and happiness of yourself and those around you as much as possible.
12. Realize non-attachment
This is a difficult point to put into so few words, but a profound one I felt would be greatly beneficial to mention nonetheless.
To realize non-attachment in a Buddhist sense doesn’t mean to abandon your friends and family and live alone for the rest of your life, never truly living again just so that you don’t become attached to these desires.
Non-attachment refers to living in a way that you exist in the natural flow of life and generally living a typical modern life, building a family, working, etc., while simultaneously not being attached to any of these things. It simply means to live in a way that you’ve become aware of and accepted the impermanence of all things in this life and live in a way that you’re ever-aware of this fact.
It’s perfectly normal for a Zen student in Japan, once having completed his training, to actually de-robe and go “back into the world” so to speak. This is because, once they’ve reached this level of realization, they see the beauty in all things and are compelled to live fully absorbed in all the beauty and wonders of this life. From this point on, they can truly “live life to the fullest”, while not clinging to any of these things.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that you stop feeling emotions. On the contrary, these emotions are welcomed and expected, and fully experienced with mindfulness in the moment of their impact. But this is simply the natural course of things.
Once these emotions subside though, and when we have no mental formations or obstructions to block our path, a natural healing process takes place that heals the wound and allows us to continue on living in peace and joy instead of dragging us down into darkness.
Source: “12 Pieces of Buddhist Wisdom That Will Transform Your Life,” by Matt Valentine