Three years ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, now that he is in the all-clear, he is determined to help others.
“I wouldn’t wish a cancer diagnosis on anyone, it is utterly devastating,’’ he says.
“But I do think it is a man thing not to talk about their health. They think, ‘Oh there is nothing wrong with me, I am a man, I don’t get ill. Only women get ill, they are the weaker sex.’
“We all know that is not true, we all know women are strong. But it is that macho attitude that stops men talking about any health issues and burying their heads in the sand over any symptoms.’’
Kelly, 73, a retired businessman from Annagry, Co Donegal, is so adamant that men should talk about their health problems that he has become actively involved in this year’s Blue September campaign.
Blue September is part of an international campaign to encourage men to face up to the risk of cancer and take responsibility for their health so that the number of Irish men dying of cancer is significantly reduced.
One in three Irish men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, yet many of them do not acknowledge their symptoms and wait to seek medical advice until it’s too late.
Kelly first realised something wasn’t quite right when he had to keep getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet. A classic symptom of prostate cancer. Other signs are pain or burning when urinating, blood in the urine or semen and difficulty in urinating.
“I was getting up four to five times a night, but my doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. Determined to find out what was wrong with me, he insisted I had more tests. Thankfully he just wouldn’t let it go,’’ recalls Kelly.
“When I finally got the diagnosis of prostate cancer, I felt utter devastation. It was a pretty daunting time. However I was treated by Prof Frank Sullivan in Galway. I was told he was one of the best man to deal with prostate cancer in the world. That was fantastic to hear and I immediately felt better.’’
Three years on, Kelly is cancer free, he has to have an injection to increase his testosterone levels every three months and a yearly assessment at Letterkenny hospital.
“So far so good, you can not believe the feeling when they say ‘Everything is okay we will see you next year.’ It is just great,’’ he says.
Clearly happy to be involved with Blue September, Kelly says he felt “so pleased’’ when he was sitting in his local pub recently and heard some men talking about the campaign.
“Cancer is a very hard subject for anyone to talk about. But it really is very difficult for men, so I hope the Blue September campaign helps men to become more aware of the importance to talk and get themselves checked out,’’ he says.
Prostate cancer rates in Ireland are the highest in Europe, with men having a one in eight chance of developing it. To put that in context, Irish women have a one in 10 chance of developing breast cancer.
However prostate cancer is 90% curable if treated in its earliest stages. The chances of developing prostate cancer increases with age and with a family history so men over 50 should get regular blood checks to ensure they are cancer free.
* www.blueseptember.ie National Cancer Helpline freefone 1800-200700