A Huddersfield Town fan who overcame a stroke and cancer within two months of each other is now back on the terraces at his beloved club.
Retired textile designer Pete Cunningham was preparing to undergo treatment for prostate cancer last year, when he suffered a debilitating stroke.
But the 65-year-old has defied the odds to recover from both health scares – and has retaken his seat back at the John Smith’s Stadium .
Grandfather-of-four Pete was treated privately at the Proton Therapy Center in Prague, Czech Republic.
He said: “To recover from both a stroke and cancer treatment within months of each other is pretty incredible.
“I feel so lucky.”
In 2012, just before his 60th birthday, he complained to his GP about problems urinating.
Further tests revealed a tumour in his prostate.
The dad-of-three said: “I ended up asking: ‘Does this really mean I’ve got cancer?’ My immediate gut reaction was to tell the specialist: ‘Get it cut out of me, now.’”
Pete asked doctors to check every six weeks for signs that the tumour was growing.
But after six years it was decision time for Denby Dale man Pete.
He said: “If I left it too long, a situation that would have been relatively straightforward to deal with, could soon become more problematic.”
Pete was advised to undergo a prostatectomy – a surgical removal of the prostate which runs the risk of side effects like impotence and incontinence.
However, Pete learned about British patients who had paid for proton beam therapy (PBT) abroad.
PBT uses a pinpoint beam of positively-charged particles to kill hard-to-reach tumours.
While there is an NHS PBT unit in the UK for removing eye cancers, the low energy beam cannot treat other cancers.
Two higher powered NHS PBT units, for treating other tumours, are under construction.
In the meantime the NHS occasionally pays for patients to have their treatment at PBT facilities abroad.
Pete, however, had to re-mortgage his home and raise £33,000 for the treatment in Prague.
He said: “I’d been a month away from having the prostatectomy when I once again read about the side effects and the consequences and I just couldn’t go through with it.
“For me, having PBT instead is all about quality of life. I’m only 65 now, and I’ve hopefully got a good few years ahead of me. I don’t want to live my life with the side effects that could result from invasive prostate surgery.
“Yes, private treatment was expensive, and I’ll have to use money from my pension to pay for the increase in mortgage.
“But it just means we have to budget more. My wife was really supportive – we’ve always been a real team. At the end of the day, I’m not blowing money on a Porsche – I’m saving my life!”
In August 2017, six weeks before he flew out to the Czech Republic, Pete suffered a stroke. He believes the stroke is unrelated to his prostate cancer diagnosis.
He said: “I was sitting on the sofa at home and I realised I couldn’t move normally. I couldn’t physically get up. My face was unaffected, and I was able to chat to my wife and the ambulance crew, but the right side of my body, my right arm and leg, just wouldn’t respond.”
But following five days in Calderdale Royal Hospital, Halifax, Pete recovered sufficiently to return home and continue his plans for his private cancer treatment.
The initial weakness down his right side quickly improved, and the only longer-term side-effect from the stroke was a slight loss of balance.
Pete underwent 21 ‘fractions’ or sessions of PBT in Prague during a month abroad before returning to his seat at Huddersfield Town next to his sons Andrew, Ian and Rob.
He said: “Considering we were there for a medical reason, my wife and I had a great time in Prague.
“You could almost forget you were there for cancer treatment. Now the job’s done I can get on with my life.
“And getting back to watch Huddersfield – to watch them beat West Brom 1-0 – after the treatment was obviously a real pleasure.
“For any other men in my position, I’d urge them to consider PBT too. Despite the costs, I have absolutely no regrets.”
Dr Jiri Kubes, Medical Director at Proton Therapy Center, Prague, said: “While the NHS acknowledges the benefits of PBT, and is building its own centres, they will still only be able to treat a fraction of those who might benefit from it, while many people will be turned down for the treatment because of the very limited indication criteria.
“There’s still a long way to go before patients in the UK have widespread access to it.”