In 2013 Peter Voolstra watched a TV show about Movember hosted by Humberto Tan. He had an appointment at his GP and inspired by the Movember discussion, asked his GP to check for prostate cancer. After a couple of examinations he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“In 2013 I worked for Holland Casino in Utrecht and in November – no, let’s say Movember – 2013 I turned 54. While zapping from one TV show to another, I saw a conversation between Humberto Tan and Edgar Davids. They discussed Movember and I wanted to understand what this was about. They spoke about prostate cancer and how important it is for men over 50 to get a regular check-up for this disease. I already had an appointment with my GP to get my cholesterol checked, since that disease led to my father’s death, I asked whether he could check my PSA values. He thought that wasn’t really necessary, but after a bit of pushing from my side, he decided to go ahead with it,” says Peter.
“Not much later there was a message on my voicemail. My value was 19, which is far too high, so on Friday I had to pay a visit to the Urologist. He made some echos and took biopsies, that showed a Gleason score of 9. I understood it was serious and wanted to be treated in the best possible hospital for my specific situation. That turned out to be the Anthony van Leeuwenhoek hospital in Amsterdam. After some delay, I was treated on January 3rd. The checks that followed showed that my lymph nodes were infected and the PSA values were still too high. Metastases were found behind the pelvis. This was followed by 37 radiation sessions that led to a drop of the values. This took about 3 to 4 months in total. After half a year the PSA values were back to zero”.
In 2014 Peter changed jobs and started working at Holland Casino in Rotterdam. He got in touch with someone from the Daniel den Hoed clinic, who was looking for personal stories of people who had been confronted with prostate cancer. “I happily volunteered because I would like to help people make that important appointment with their GP. Movember has saved my life and now I would like to give something back by saving others in that same way. The Daniel den Hoed clinic became the number one charity for Holland Casino Rotterdam and we organised a variety of activities for this clinic. I’m still actively involved in this.”
Openness and honesty saves lives
How did you respond to the news, and how did your family take it? “I’ve never really felt sick. It felt rather strange, because on January 3rd I entered the hospital as a healthy person, but then went out feeling sick. You’re aware of the seriousness of the issue, but at the same time, try to avoid really thinking about it.”
“The recovery period was relatively easy. Within 4 weeks after my operation I started to work again. Even when I had my radiation treatment I kept on working. I thought ‘I can always go to bed if I need to’. My sons were still living at home back then, and I really feel we entered this period as a family. There have been emotional moments of fear and doubt though. Especially when I had to wait 5 weeks for an operation after I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had to wait because the tumors needed to get bigger in order to localise them. That’s weird, right? That you need to wait for tumors to grow!”
How did the disease change your life? “My prostate has been fully removed, including everything around it, which means that now I can’t have an erection anymore without taking an injection. That certainly changes your life, especially on an emotional level. I can make a fuss about that, but in the end, it won’t change anything.”
You’re quite open and honest about your situation. Do you think this is very difficult for most men? Do you think they may feel that they’re giving up on their masculinity by confronting themselves with the disease? “I think many men do perceive it that way, and we like to bury our heads in the sand. I’ve always spoken openly about my problem and about the effects. That has made things easier for me, both businesswise and personally. People feel they can ask me their honest questions. This openness and honesty may also help me process what has happened better.”
“Every year, 11,000 men will be confronted with prostate cancer. If it runs in your family, you will need to take extra precautions. I spoke to a man the other day who told me that his dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I asked him whether he went for a check-up himself. He looked at me surprised, so I asked for his age. He was in his 50s, so he belonged to a risk group. We need to be more alert, because only then we can save lives.”
Continue to enjoy life
How do you reflect on this period? What were the most difficult moments, and which moments were maybe easier than expected? “My wife and I have always told ourselves to enjoy life. Even when I got sick, we decided to do that. And again, I’ve been lucky for not getting sick and being able to do what I like doing most. Not everyone will be that lucky.” Peter, I find it remarkable that you were healthy, but still found out that you’re actually very sick. That seems extra difficult, because there’s no reason to visit a GP then. How can you still be alert in a situation like that? “Women can benefit from a population screening, and unfortunately we don’t have this for men yet. But men in their 50s can certainly visit a GP and ask for a check-up. So, if you’re in your 50s – especially when prostate cancer runs in your family – get yourself checked. It has saved my life.”
Movember and prostate cancer
What more can Movember do to make people aware of prostate cancer? “I know there are many people that know Movember, but I’m sure there are also many people who haven’t heard of it. The more people know Movember, the more you can influence society. I will certainly do anything I can for that cause, because every single man that decides to get a check-up at the GP will make a difference.”
How can we make a contribution with the Movember Run? “I think that organising a run is already great. Don’t forget to explain why you do it though. It’s not about the run itself, but about the cause behind it. Running is certainly good for your health, but that won’t necessarily prevent prostate or testicular cancer.”
And what would you like to say to people who are still in doubt about their participation to the Movember Run? “Forget about your doubts. Getting attention for this cause is super important. Because of one TV show, I’m still here, still alive. Every conversation we have about Movember, may save someone’s life. That’s what it’s all about!”