Image: Sue and Philip on the golf course. Credit: Sue Duncombe
Philip loved golf. When he was having treatment for prostate cancer, golf was one of the markers his oncologist used to see how he was doing. He’d always ask Philip if he’d played since he was last in, and if the answer was no, the oncologist would know he wasn’t doing well.
It was a complete shock to us both when Philip was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005.
He’d had a routine PSA test and was told his level was high, but the GP thought he may just need a retest. He had a retest, and the result came back even higher.
Philip was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 52. He had surgery to remove his prostate and then hormone treatment, followed by nine rounds of docetaxel chemotherapy.
But the cancer had become resistant to the treatment, and it spread. It went past his lymph nodes and reached his bones and, at this point, we thought we were out of options.
Philip’s quality of life at this time was generally very poor. He couldn’t leave the house much, and he certainly couldn’t play his beloved golf.
Then Philip’s oncologist told us about a clinical trial of abiraterone in patients where chemotherapy had failed. In January 2009, Philip was fortunate enough to be entered into the phase III trial, which was accepting patient volunteers in Oxford.
“I was staggered by the impact on his quality of life”
Within two weeks of starting the trial, Philip’s PSA had reduced significantly, but, more importantly, he was feeling much better.
I was staggered by the impact abiraterone had on his quality of life. Philip was a really social person, but he’d found it so difficult to go out that he would often just stay at home, drained and exhausted.
I remember just a couple of weeks after Philip started abiraterone, I found him sitting at his laptop and asked what he was doing – he told me he was looking at flights to Cape Town. A friend of Philip’s from golf was going out with his wife, and they had a spare room.
We went to South Africa in February 2009, in between clinical appointments.
It was such a special trip. Philip got to play golf, and we got to see bits of the country we’d been to before that had a special meaning for us.
One of my favourite memories is of spending time in Franschhoek, a small town outside Cape Town, with Philip. It was a beautiful environment, and we had good food, good drink, and the company of friends and each other.
It was incredible, and it was unbelievable Philip was able to go when he’d recently been so unwell.
Image: Philip on holiday in South Africa. Credit: Sue Duncombe
Living life to the full
We only went to South Africa for 10 days, because Philip had to get back for an appointment, but we continued travelling over the next few months.
We went to Provence in France, and we went on a flotilla holiday in the Mediterranean with our neighbours, where we taught them how to sail.
It was a very active time, and it was such a contrast from when Philip was just sat at home, feeling tired, drained, and happy if people came to visit.
Abiraterone gave Philip the chance to live life to the full for eight whole months.
Sadly, the treatment eventually stopped working, and Philip died on Christmas Day 2009.
I feel so passionate about abiraterone – it gave us almost an extra year of quality time together, which we made the most of with family and friends.
When a drug has such an impact on a patient’s life, it’s not just that person that benefits, but their family and friends.
I’m really aware of the importance of research and the benefit it has to individuals, and I’m proud of the fact that Philip took part in the trial because it will have helped other men and their families get access to abiraterone.
I took up golf a few years after I married Philip, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done – I made a really good circle of friends in the golf club, and when Philip died, they were all there for me.
Although I never got into it quite as much as my husband, I’ve played it ever since. I feel lucky I can exercise and travel, and be active and fit and healthy. I want to live life – it’s there to be enjoyed.
Abiraterone was discovered by our researchers. The drug has now gone on to benefit hundreds of thousands of men with prostate cancer around the world. Support us today and help us discover more life-changing cancer treatments.
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