The moving family story behind a Darlington GP’s deeply personal reasons for wanting to be at the forefront of a campaign to save lives by raising awareness of prostate cancer. PETER BARRON reports

THE son of a distinguished medical officer in the Polish resistance during the Second World War, Dr Andrzej Hubert Szemis was a brilliant, active, and intensely proud man.

Having been the director of a hospital in Poland, the eminent psychiatrist came to England at the end of The Cold War in 1984, settling in Leicester with his wife, Lucyna, and their young son, Piotr.

Sadly, Andrzej's fate was to die, aged 85, in a hospice in Leicester, in January 2021, five years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

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Now, three years on from his beloved father's death, Piotr is at the forefront of a campaign by the Darlington Primary Care Network to raise awareness of prostate cancer, urging men to watch for the signs, and get themselves checked.

“Because of what happened to my dad, I’ll always have a heightened awareness of prostate cancer, and I'm keen to do whatever I can to spread the word about the importance of staying vigilant,” says Piotr, who works as a GP at Neasham Road Surgery, in Darlington.

“If you catch prostate cancer early enough, it can be successfully treated," he says.

"Men mustn’t bury their heads in the sand – they must talk to their GP if they have symptoms.”

Piotr loves his job in general practice because it gives him the chance to help people, and the prostate cancer awareness campaign is an example.

And yet, it’s strange to think that the 39-year-old Darlington GP might never have been born had it not been for a chilling twist of fate during war…

His grandfather, Captain Dr Zenon Szemis, was one of tens of thousands of Polish military officers taken captive by the Russians and transported to Siberia.

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In the spring of 1940, nearly 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia prisoners of war were executed in ‘The Katyn massacre’ which was carried out by the Soviet secret police. The massacre took its name from the Katyn forest where the mass executions took place.

Captain Szemis would have been among those murdered but he was saved by the fact that he was a medical officer.

He was summoned to deal with an emergency involving a wounded Russian soldier, and so avoided being shot.

“When he returned, his fellow prisoners had all been executed, and my grandfather was able to survive the war, living until 1953,” explains Piotr.

With his grandfather being a medical officer, his father a psychiatrist, and his mother a neuro pathologist, there was an inevitability about Piotr going into medicine but, initially, he rebelled and studied International Management at the Manchester Business School.

He graduated in 2006, but decided "there was more to life than chasing money”, so he returned to Poland to retrain at the Medical University of Warsaw.

He returned to England to practise, and settled in Stockton, where his wife, Katsiaryna Andreichanka is a trainee GP. The couple have two sons, Maksimilian and Aleksander.

Piotr qualified as a GP in 2017, and Neasham Road Surgery, in Darlington, was his first salaried job in general practice.

Within a year, he'd been made a partner, but he admits it was a challenging time, trying to manage the pressures of the practice in Darlington while also trying to help his dad through a range of health problems.

"Initially, he was diagnosed with an enlarged prostate, and had surgery, but then the symptoms reoccurred, and cancer was found.

"Dad had grown to love this country. He felt safe here and had confidence that the NHS would look after him and his family," says Piotr.

"He was riddled with health conditions, but prostate cancer was the only cancer he had.

"He was a very proud man. He loved mountain climbing and being active, and the biggest problem he had was bone pain.

"He was in constant agony, but didn't want to be on medication because it made his brain less sharp.

"With prostate cancer, you can't predict whether you'll get it or not. It's just a question of staying vigilant and getting tested.

"In the end the cancer spread to his spine, and it was hard to see such a proud man getting weaker and frailer until he died in the hospice."

Darlington Primary Care Network's aim is to highlight the symptoms of prostate cancer, so other families are spared from losing their loved ones.

Inspired by his personal experience of the condition, Piotr is passionate about wanting to play his part.

And it seems the family tradition is destined to carry on. At the age of 11, Piotr's son, Maksimilian, has already decided he wants to become a doctor – like his dad, his grandad, and his great-grandad.

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THE prostate is a small gland located deep inside the groin, between the base of the penis and the rectum.

It is important for reproduction because it supplies part of the seminal fluid, which mixes with sperm and helps it travel and survive.


MOST men with early prostate cancer don’t have any signs or symptoms but if you do notice changes in the way you urinate, you should speak to your GP.

These include:

  • Difficulty starting to urinate
  • A weak flow when you urinate
  • A feeling that your bladder hasn’t fully emptied
  • Dribbling urine after you finish
  • Urinating more often than usual, especially at night
  • An urgent need to urinate – sometimes you may leak before you get to the toilet
  •  Problems getting or maintaining an erection


  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained bone pain