Abu Dhabi resident who beat prostate cancer urges men to have regular check-ups

It's the second most common cancer in men worldwide and early detection is key

Kevin Rooney, a UAE University lecturer, says early screening saved his life. Victor Besa / The National
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It is a dreaded diagnosis no patient wants to hear.

But when Abu Dhabi resident Kevin Rooney was told he had cancer, he experienced what he calls a "weird" reaction.

For while merely hearing the word "cancer" cross a doctor's lips can be terrifying, Mr Rooney remained confident that it had been detected early thanks to his proactive approach to his health.

He has now urged other men to have check-ups as early detection is key.

After going for a routine visit to his doctor, the 59-year-old Canadian was told that the prostate-specific antigen levels in his blood were higher than normal.

Within days, Mr Rooney, an English lecturer at UAE University, was told he had prostate cancer.

“I have a strong family history of prostate cancer so I’ve always been vigilant about getting regular check-ups,” he said.

I was told I might need to have about 35 courses of radiation treatment. Then a few days later the consultant said I could go for a prostatectomy - as all of the cancer was contained within the prostate
Kevin Rooney

“I had no symptoms, and initially, the doctor thought my raised PSA levels might have been the result of an infection. When the second test came back high, I was referred for a biopsy.

“The results were in within days and when I found out that it was in fact cancer, I had a weird reaction. I was somewhat concerned but I figured they had caught it early.”

Mr Rooney, who has seen both his father and uncle recover from the disease, said a diagnosis that could have turned his world upside down did not do so.

Over the next few weeks, Mr Rooney, who has lived in the Middle East for more than two decades, went for tests and check-ups to determine his next phase of treatment.

Diagnosed at 75, his father went through intensive radiation treatment for about two months. This was a path Mr Rooney was hoping to avoid.

“I underwent an MRI at Tawam Hospital and was referred to the radiologist,” he said.

“I was told I might need to have about 35 courses of radiation treatment, I think it lasts about 15 minutes each day, so I thought that was my only route.

“Then a few days later I was asked to return to the hospital. The consultant had looked at my case and said I could go for a prostatectomy as all of the cancer was contained within the prostate.”

A prostatectomy is a surgical procedure for the partial or complete removal of the prostate.

Overcoming the disease

On July 19, about three months after his diagnosis, Mr Rooney had the laparoscopy operation and was home and recovered within five days.

“It wasn’t open surgery so it’s not particularly invasive. I had the operation on the Sunday, was in intensive care until the Tuesday and was home by the Thursday,” he said.

“For me, my journey was fairly straightforward. My problems were small compared to what others have to go through with their cancer.

“I have a family, I can still drive a car, I can do things I want to do in my life and I have my independence.

“For others I would say make sure you get regular check-ups. A simple blood test every year is all it takes.

“There is no reason to die from this disease if you are reasonably proactive.”

While he now goes for a PSA test every three months, Mr Rooney said he had been told he was cured of the disease.

Doctors urge men to shake off taboo and get tested

Dr Aftab Bhatti, consultant physician at Tawam Hospital, part of Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha), performed Mr Rooney’s operation.

“This gentleman’s awareness about prostate cancer in relation to his family history and request for the PSA test in time made a difference to his life,” he said.

“Getting cured from the cancer is a huge relief and he is carrying on with his life as normal.

“This is a message for all of us to be aware of our health, possible risks that we might have and timely action to prevent serious health issues.”

Ahead of Prostate Cancer Awareness Week, Dr Bhatti said people should stay vigilant about the disease, which can be treated easily if detected early.

There are three main risk factors when it comes to prostate cancer and they are things you cannot change.

Getting older, having a family history of the disease and ethnicity all play a part in increasing the risk of getting it.

Dr Waleed Hassen, a urologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, said prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men worldwide, while testicular cancer is the most common malignancy among men aged 20 to 40.

“Too many men are unaware of the health risks they face and the actions they should be taking to ensure they have the best quality of life,” he told The National earlier.

Patients should consider having a check-up earlier if they experience symptoms, such as an inability to urinate and pain or blood during urination, or if they are particularly at risk because of their lifestyle or family medical history.

Screening includes a clinical exam, a prostate-specific antigen blood test, and a sonogram.

Updated: September 15, 2021, 11:14 AM