WHEN actor Joe Conlan put out the news on social media earlier this month that he was an ambassador for the Irish Cancer Society he says he felt as if he was pushing the red button.
He hadn’t told many about his prostate cancer diagnosis in January 2019 as he didn’t want to be defined by his illness but now he’s ready to talk. And he’s not going to stop, he tellsbecause he plans to “start shouting for men very loudly” to make sure they get regular health checks.
“I want to get across the message to other men that, no matter how young or old you are, you need to look after yourself. You need to listen to your body, and if your body is telling you something, it’s for a good reason. Go to the GP,” he says.
He says he thinks Irish men tend to have this attitude of “Ah sure, I’m grand”, but just as a car needs servicing, men need regular health checks too.
Indeed, it was thanks to regular health checks that the Panto star and founder of the Ratss Stage School was advised to see a urologist in late 2018. He was in the middle of thepanto at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and was not at all prepared for the prostate cancer diagnosis that followed in January.
It was a terrible shock, he says, but even so, the show still went on. When he started radiotherapy in June 2019, he did 97 shows at the Gaiety. “I did my blood tests in between shows.”
The last number of months have been “challenging”. Joe Conlan (61) is purposely upbeat about his choice of word explaining that his positivity helped him through. That, and the tremendous support he got from the few family members and friends he told as well as the constant reassurance from a medical team he can’t praise enough.
The fact that he was a non-smoker, a moderate drinker and fit – he is a daily runner and goes to the gym six days a week – also helped him negotiate his illness, he believes. He is also a committed healthy eater and now pays particular attention to his diet.
The day starts with a bowl of porridge with seeds and banana, a half a cup of tea, a pint of water and a poached egg. Around 11am, he’ll have a protein drink, and lunch is usually something like salad with tuna. He doesn’t eat a lot of red meat but has not cut it out completely.
He eats lots of leafy green veg and fresh fruit and mixes up things such as chicken, salad, broccoli, spinach and rice for evening meals. He eats little and often rather than having big meals, as he finds his body processes food more easily that way.
There are treats too because, he says, as in life, moderation is key. He enjoys an occasional pint of Guinness or a glass of red wine.
Oncology dietician Ruth Kilcawley can’t emphasis enough the important role played by diet. She says nutrition before, during and after therapies for cancers has been closely linked to better outcomes.
“Therefore,” she says, “during treatment, diet should contain all the components required to preserve lean body mass and meet nutritional requirements such as high-quality protein, adequate energy, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.”
However, the illness and its treatment can often lead to reduced appetite which poses a real challenge to eating healthily. Smaller fortified portions can help and dietician Ruth Kilcawley spends a lot of time with patients helping them to overcome other side effects of treatment, such as dry mouth, constipation and changes in taste and smell.
After treatment, the focus is on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, she says. “Indeed becoming as lean as possible through eating a diverse, mostly plant-based, diet with less red meat and alcohol and more fruit and vegetables is key to this, as is getting regular exercise.”
- To find how more about how you can live well with and beyond cancer, the Irish Cancer Society’s annual national conference runs online on 29 and 30 September. You can register at www.cancer.ie/livingwell