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The enemy within

Carol Martindale

The enemy within

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From age 40, Richard Alleyne was preparing to fight the enemy.

He was ready for war.

The battle lines were drawn, he was armed, at least mentally, and he was prepared to fight.

Three years ago, the enemy appeared.

Alleyne, the Harbour Master at the Bridgetown Port for the last 26 years, was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

While not surprising, given his family history with the disease, the news still rocked him.

From the time Alleyne hit 40 years old, he was getting his prostate tested.

Apart from the fact that doctors recommend men start testing at that age, he saw how that form of cancer had ravaged his father.

 His dad, former head of the Civil Service Victor Alleyne, died of prostate cancer at 59 years old. Three of his uncles were also diagnosed with it.

“Every year without fail, I was getting tested. I was aware it could happen.

“I wasn’t scared to be tested. I wanted to know when the enemy appeared so I could fight with it. I needed to know when he would make his appearance so I could do battle and deal with the situation,” Alleyne said during an interview last week.

The 57-year-old said he was the type who refused to “wish away” a problem and instead, looked to deal with it head-on.

He recalled that when he first started his tests, his PSA level (prostate-specific antigen) was less than one.  

When he was diagnosed it was at 3.8.

“What was the indicator for me that I had a problem was not so much the 3.8 but the change that occurred between the previous test and that time. It was gradually increasing. Within that last year there was a significant jump. It went from 2.5 to 3.8. That told me then that there was something going on that wasn’t going on before,” he said.

During that time, Alleyne said there were no significant changes.

On hindsight, he only recalled “soft symptoms”.

“My family noticed that I was far less energetic, that I was dragging my feet and I was going to the bathroom more than two and three times a night,” he said.

Given the results of that test, Alleyne said he was not “watching nor waiting”.

He immediately sought further medical advice, as well as a second opinion.

Alleyne visited a specialist and had his biopsy done under local anaesthetic which he said was a painless experience.

He vividly remembered the stress of waiting for the results.

It took a month before he received his results, as his doctor, Professor Barlow Lynch, a Bajan living and working in the United States, and a professor in urology, returned to the island.

 “When he broke the news to me, I cried. Even though I half way expected it, still the realisation that it was there, was still a shock to me,” he said.

But Alleyne said his doctor was very reassuring. “He said ‘don’t worry Mr Alleyne, I will take care of you’. That boosted my confidence in him and what was happening,” he said.

Then once the initial shock of the grim news wore off, Alleyne started to prepare himself for the operation.

He had received results from the PSA in March and had three months before surgery.

“I saw the cancer as the enemy within. To defeat him, I tried to learn as much as I could about it. I used to have conversations with it too. I would say ‘listen man, there is not enough room in this world for the two of us and I am not going anywhere’. So from the get go it was ‘fight and defeat this thing’,” he said laughing.

Alleyne then changed his diet, cutting down on his carbs and including more fish and vegetables and even some natural remedies.  

In addition he bumped up his exercise.

“I was conditioning myself mentally and physically to deal with it.

Alleyne was anxious to have the operation.

He recalled the support from his wife of 31 years, Gwendah, and his three children as well as his friends.

He also attended the healing ministry of Prophet Harold Broomes.

His deep faith in God and healing also guided him through.

“I was fighting this thing from two fronts, the physical and the spiritual,” he said.

Finally it was D-day and Alleyne was ready for his radical operation which would remove his entire prostate and the surrounding lymph nodes.

He remembered he was at Bayview Hospital bright and early on that day, June 1, 2011.

He was the last of four patients that day and was wheeled into the operating room around 1 p.m.

“When I was being pushed to the theatre it was the calmest I have ever been. It was surreal. Every time I think about it I am calm and relaxed,” he said.

Alleyne said he had no fear about the operation, nor did he harbour negative thoughts about the outcome, as some men do especially about their sex life post surgery.

“I value life over sex. The doctor was trained in the nerve sparing technique so I wasn’t nervous. He was so confident that I wasn’t worried at all about the outcome,” he said, adding that the operation lasted about four-and-a-half hours.

Alleyne had a two-day stay in hospital.

He spent four months at home recuperating, and reported that three to four weeks after the operation he was driving and going for short walks.

Alleyne encouraged men in Barbados to be proactive when it comes to their health.

He acknowledged that men have a lot of fears – fear of the unknown and fear of death. He said some men also appear to value sex more than life.

Speaking up during this “Movember” month where the focus is on men’s health, Alleyne underscored the importance of early screening and working closely with doctors to select the best treatment given the options that are now available.

“I feel grateful to be alive. I am aware if I didn’t take the action I did, I may not have been here. I give God thanks. I watched my father die of prostate cancer and it is one of the most cruel ways a person could die. It takes you down completely and slowly. It is not the way one wants to die if one has a choice. You want to avoid that at all costs.”

While Alleyne is still being actively monitored and being tested every six months, he said his life was now back to normal.

Now, Alleyne has his eyes set on being a pastor.