Basil Newby has never walked away from a fight in his life – whether for gay rights, later licensing hours or to pay off a tax bill financial experts assured him would never arrive.
His greatest battle is being waged right now. It’s against prostate cancer, the innermost fear of many men.
Every hour a man dies of prostate cancer. The message has been hammered home by celebrities – such as comedian Bill Bailey and impressionist (and former Radio Wave presenter) Jon Culshaw – supporting Prostate Cancer UK’s Awareness Month.
Prostate cancer kills more than 10,000 of the 35,000 men it affects in the UK every year.
Basil is only interested in one celebrity.
Chef Ken Hom. For it was an article about Hom’s battle against prostate cancer using a revolutionary radiation treatment currently not available on the NHS which, he believes, may have saved his own life.
Ken opted for proton treatment. Originally developed by nuclear scientists it has been used medically since the 1990s and delivers high energy particles which heat up and destroy cancer cells. Unlike conventional radiation treatments proton beam particles can be more precisely localised on the tumour site – targeting diseased tissue and leaving healthy tissue unscathed.
Hom says he’s avoided the incontinence (often temporary) and impotence which can be associated with conventional treatment. Proton beam therapy is not available in the UK let alone on the NHS. The machines are incredibly expensive – up to £30m just to set up. UK radiotherapists believe precisely targeted methods of delivering treatment already exist in the UK which are just as good at avoiding side effects.
But Basil wasn’t hedging his bets. He wanted the miracle magic bullet even if it meant spending close on £80k for the treatment in Munich, accommodation and flights.
“What sold it for me was the fact it doesn’t kill healthy nerves,” says Basil. “I’d love to see it available on the NHS. It may be in time but not in this economy. The machines are expensive but I’d argue palliative care costs far more.”
Basil’s life was thrown into turmoil by the diagnosis of prostate cancer last summer. Life was already a rollercoaster. He had been in business for more than 30 years – but one of the anniversary cards received was for £800k unpaid tax.
“What hurt was my late father got clobbered with capital gains tax years ago so I was always aware of it and wary of it,” he explains. “I’d been assured by auditors that because my property (the Flamingo at the Talbot Gateway project) had been compulsorily purchased I would be exempt from capital gains tax. Eighteen months later I received a tax bill – in my name, not the business’.”
By the time the dispute went to court the bill stood at £1.2m with interest but Basil won two concessions.
“The judge told me I had been wrongly advised and suggested I take legal representation. He also transferred the debt to business. We agreed a five year payment plan by voluntary arrangement. It’s called a CVA but the trouble is it goes on your accounts, affects licences, everything. I should have just done what everyone else does – a pre-packaged administration which effectively wipes the bill out and lets you go forward hunky dunky. But I’ve got a good name, this town is lovely with me, so I wanted to do the honourable thing. It’s just me, the way I am. But it means finding £250k a year on top of everything else in the toughest economy going.”
Basil adds: “So when I started feeling tired I put it down to stress. It was my sisters who noticed, at dinner, that I kept going to the toilet. I’d started panicking over where the toilets were when I went to meetings.”
His GP did a blood test which found his PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) level was 11. “For a man of my age – no, I’m not telling you – it should be 2-3 at most. Mine was in double figures.
“I had no idea what PSA was, I had no idea the prostate, which is the size of a walnut, was so crucial to what a man is.”
His own father died from prostate cancer. “I later learned my grandfather and an uncle went the same way. I convinced myself it was an enlarged prostate or urinary infection but the specialist at the Vic said it could mean the ‘big elephant in the room’.
“It was only later I found out it meant something that’s obvious but which you don’t mention – cancer.”
A biopsy conducted half an hour later found a Gleason Six tumour, “low grade and not progressive.” Basil was told he was suitable for “active surveillance, regular monitoring for the next few years.” Or he could have his prostate removed. “Neither appealed to me.” On the advice of a doctor friend he got a second opinion at a private London clinic. “There was an A-List actor in the next room.” £5,000 later he learned he had four tumours – “a more invasive biopsy covered the other side of the prostate.”
“I was told I needed to act quickly as it was on the edge of my prostate.”
Basil asked about proton therapy. He paid £55k for a six week course at a specialist centre in Munich – the first to offer the experimental therapy in Europe.
He sold his cherished BMW M3 to help foot the bill. “You can’t put a price on your health but the money just wasn’t available – so I had to make some sacrifices.”
Health insurance wouldn’t cover it, the NHS wouldn’t – I appealed but lost. They said other options had been offered to me.”
Since completing the course in December Basil’s PSA level has dropped to four – and is falling further. He returned to Munich last week for a top-up treatment. “They say it’s all completely clear and my PSA level should be down to zero by the end of the year.
“It’s a lifesaver. But I know it’s all about relative values, that not all can afford it. I want to urge men, at the very least, to go and get a PSA check if they’re over 50. Catching it early is crucial. There are so few symptoms.
“Men are reluctant to go. It’s a man thing and they need to get over the embarrassment of it all. I didn’t want to tell people what was happening because I didn’t want people looking at me with sheepdog eyes and thinking poor Basil, he’s not long for this earth. I didn’t want sympathy or pity. I told family and friends but the word got out.
“So I want people to know I’m alive and kicking. It’s left me tired but optimistic. It’s also left me with three minute gold beads in my prostate which helps guide the protons to where the tumours are. So now I really am Golden Balls!”