Darlington Lions Club is offering men, aged 40 and over, the chance to have a free prostate cancer test. PETER BARRON tells how the campaign has already proved to be a lifesaver among its own ranks

WHEN officials of Darlington Lions Club launched an initiative to give men free prostate cancer tests, little did they know they would end up saving the lives of two of their own members.

But Dave Simmons, 75, and Richard Western, 77, are living proof of the value of the Lions’ foresight – and they are now urging others to protect themselves.

It all began in 2020 when Darlington Lions raised £6,000 to stage an event at the town’s Masonic Hall, enabling men to get a free PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test to spot early signs of cancer.

The event had been due to take place on May 16 but was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Undeterred, the Lions used the money to buy home-testing kits.

Dave applied for one of the kits and took the test. The result was a PSA level of 21.1 – compared to the normal level of 6.5 – and he was urged to contact his GP.

The reading was confirmed, and Dave embarked on a series of further tests and investigations, including CT and MRI scans, with a biopsy, in late 2020, confirming he had prostate cancer. Now, thanks to radiation and medication, he has a PSA level of 0.1, meaning the cancer is under control.

“If I hadn’t had the test, sponsored by Darlington Lions Club, the oncologist and urologist told me we’d have been talking about a very different scenario,” says Dave. “It’s entirely possible that the test saved my life because the cancer would have spread without me knowing, and every aspect of the NHS has been first-class.”

In the meantime, Dave telephoned his friend, Richard, to tell him about the free testing kits on offer from Darlington Lions Club and arranged one for him. It sat on the table for a week before Richard took the test and the result came back with a “red flag” reading of 45.

Richard, a past Lions president, rang his local surgery the following morning, saw a doctor, and went on to have CT, MRI and bone scans, then a biopsy. In May, it was confirmed that he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer that had escaped into his lymph glands. He started hormone treatment earlier this month.

“Dave’s done a super job promoting the campaign and I’ve no doubt it saved my life,” says Richard. “A consultant urologist told me if I’d not had the test, it could have been a very different outcome, but now they can manage it for the rest of my life.”

The two men are members of Blackwell Grange Golf Club, in Darlington. Dave, who spent his career in management services after starting at Paton and Baldwins textile factory in the sixties, is also a member of Woodland Bowling Club. Richard, who spent more than 30 years as an MFI store manager, also enjoys walking in the Dales.

“We’re relatively fit, active men and the cancer diagnosis came completely out of the blue for both of us, which underlines the importance of the tests,” adds Richard.

Darlington Lions Club has now teamed up with Blackwell Grange Golf Club to press ahead with the prostate cancer campaign by staging a free PSA blood testing event between 12pm and 7pm on August 5.

This year’s golf club captain, Dicky Parker, has chosen Prostate Cancer UK as his charity and the testing event – for men aged 40 and over – will coincide with a fundraising four-ball golf tournament on the same day.

The Lions, working in conjunction with the national PSA testing charity, the Graham Fulford Charitable Trust, have budgeted for 150 free tests, which are by appointment only and can be booked online at www.darllions.mypsatests.org.uk. Those who don’t have internet access should call 01926 419959.

Anyone wishing to support the charity by entering a team of four to play in the charity tournament should contact Blackwell Grange Golf Club secretary, Neil Clarke, on 01325 464458 between 9am and 4pm.

Darlington Lions Club director, Denis Pinnegar, says: “When we set out with this initiative, we didn’t realise we would end up saving the lives of two of our own members, and it’s the personification of what the Lions do.

“It’s very heartwarming and makes it all worthwhile. Sometimes, when you’re standing in the town centre, on a cold winter’s day, shaking a collection box, you wonder if it's all worth it. But when something like this happens, you don’t need to ask that question.”

The facts are these:

There are around 12,000 prostate cancer deaths in the UK every year, that’s 33 every day.

  • On average, 129 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each day in the UK.
  • Survival for prostate cancer is generally good, particularly if you are diagnosed early.
  • Dave Simmons and Richard Western know they are two of the lucky ones. You could be too...

THE launch of my new children’s book, Zizu Loses His Stripes, was an eventful affair last week.

It culminated on Saturday with the fire and rescue service turning up at Waterstones book shop, in Darlington, after customers – including my own son and granddaughter – got trapped in a broken-down lift.

A few days earlier – as part of the book launch – the publishers had organised “a jungle cruise” aboard the Teesside Princess, on the River Tees.

Guests included TV presenter Pam Royle (pictured below), who has brilliantly provided the voices for Zizu zebra and his chums for the audio and video versions of the book.

My 90-year-old mum, a long-time admirer, went up to Pam during the voyage and asked if she would be so kind as to sign a copy of the book.

“Yes, of course – shall I just sign it Pam?” asked one of the North-East’s best-known personalities.

“No, can you put Pam Ayres, please?” replied my mum.

Pam Ayres, of course, is the celebrated poet with a distinctive, rural accent, who starred on Opportunity Knocks in 1975.

As far as I know, she's never read the news.

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