Gary Symons of Kelowna can enjoy walks with his dog again following treatment for an enlarged prostate. The painful condition went undiagnosed almost five years.
Now in his 50s, the Kelowna entrepreneur has had to bear an enlarged prostate gland, a condition that went undiagnosed for most of the past five years. His agony was so excruciating, there were times the married father considered ending his life.
"I didn't want to talk about it, even with my wife. My embarrassment almost killed me," he said.
A successful operation last summer cured the symptoms. Inspired, Symons is writing a book and has built a website aimed at the millions of men diagnosed with prostate disease every year.
The site gives men an overview of what tests should be conducted and the treatments they can get to deal with prostatitis, prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate.
"We're doing the wrong tests," he said. "(Doctors) are looking for cancer. Meantime, you can be sick and feeling horrible."
Symons lived with discomfort for two years before seeing a physician. He had a rectal exam and a PSA test, which measures a protein manufactured by the prostate in men's blood. The doctor found nothing unusual.
His condition worsened. He had trouble urinating and would have to go again five minutes later. His kidneys backed up, causing shooting pains. He was misdiagnosed with prostatitis and given a powerful antibiotic that stiffened his tendons.
He could no longer hike up steep hills. He saw a specialist, who sent him for an ultrasound test that showed an abnormality. A probe inserted in his urethra determined his prostate was enlarged on the opposite side of the gland - beyond the reach of his doctor's finger.
Prostate enlargement, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is a common condition in older men. Symons had shooting pain in his kidneys and groin. The owner of a technology company, he couldn't go to work. His kidneys were failing. In July, his wife, Stephanie, took him to hospital when he failed to pass anything and turned white.
"I got stabbed once by a guy on Granville Street. The pain going through me was 10 times that," he said.
A catheter was inserted to penetrate the blockage. Dr. Josh Wiesenthal performed emergency surgery in late August. The procedure, a trans-urethral re-sectioning of the prostate, was similar to coring out an apple with a wire loop that burned the tissue, Symons said.
He lost a lot of blood, but it worked. His urine cleared up and the pain went away. Now he's on a mission to warn other men.
"It's going to happen to you. It's just when and how bad it is," he said. "Everybody will have symptoms. . . . If it's aggressive, it can really grow."
Symons watched his father, John, die of prostate cancer. Now he wants others to learn from his experience. Do the PSA and the rectal exam, he says. If results are negative and you still have symptoms, ask to see a specialist and demand an ultrasound.
"A lot of people are being treated for the wrong disease. It's not well understood," he said.
A former journalist, Symons has put his research skills to work. He's written the first draft of a 200-page book and is raising money to self-publish it. He launched his website prostaterepairguide.com in November.
The site includes a self-diagnosis quiz that allows men to score themselves on how they urinate. The survey doesn't provide medical advice, but suggests seeing a doctor if you have a high score.