I charge people to see my cancer tattoo and give the money to charity

John Hopkins showing his cancer survivor tattoo
My ideas were brought to life through the tattoo artist (Picture courtesy John Hopkins).

‘Hey mate, what’s that tattoo for?’

Shawleen & I were at a hotel when Shawleen noticed someone with a few friends standing beside us. He pointed out the blue ribbon that was on my arm.

‘It’s for prostate cancer, isn’t it?’ he asked.

I laughed and then nodded. ‘I’ll tell you about it if you donate to the charity,’ I offered jokingly.

To my surprise, they immediately handed over £16 and so indeed, I told them about what I’d been through.

It was January 2019, and I noticed I was going to the bathroom more frequently at night. It was January 2019, when I was 59 years. It was simply a matter of growing older.

My wife thought it might be a problem with my urinary tract. She encouraged me to go to the doctor. I put off making an appointment for a few months as I dismissed the symptom, thinking it couldn’t be anything serious.

I now realize how stupid it was.

Because of my age, my doctor did a prostate examination and referred me for a urologist. I had a scan that showed not much so I went to see the doctor to have a biopsy.

At the end of April, I was called back to the doctor’s office for the results. It was almost as if he was slow speaking when he said that I had prostate carcinoma.

It was funny though, I didn’t have any feelings of dread and I wasn’t even that shocked – I just knew I needed to fight it.

‘This isn’t going to get me,’ I told my wife on our way home. My daughter was planning her wedding and I was determined I’d be there.

John Hopkins with £1 donation for tattoo conversation
I wanted to commemorate my journey and all I’d been through (Picture: John Hopkins)

‘There are two options of chemotherapy, or you could have the prostate removed,’ my consultant told me. It was safer than being sorry, so I requested it.

I didn’t listen to them when they warned me about the dangers associated with incontinence, erectile dysfunction and other issues. But, I was determined to keep going.

The worst part about having a bone scan is the possibility of cancer. It would have been much harder to fight. Thankfully, a nurse called me a few days later to reassure me that it hadn’t, and my operation was booked in for 26 June 2019.

My prostate and surrounding tissues were removed by a robot that was controlled by a surgeon during the five-hour-long keyhole procedure. I can’t deny I was sore when I came around but I was so determined to get better, I was up and about the next day.

To help me recover, my wife took a month off. She was a phlebotomist and was able to administer all of my injections, change my surgical socks and keep me focused on my healing. She has been an amazing supporter for many years.

Incontinence did occur, but this was an aftereffect of my surgery. It felt like I had made it to the end of my cancer journey. Some people are not so fortunate.

I was cleared for the spring 2021 after three positive Prostate Health (PSA) blood test.

That was why I decided to get my tattoo of the blue ribbon to represent the type of cancer I had – I wanted to commemorate my journey and all I’d been through.

This was my first tattoo.

When I was first diagnosed, I thought of getting a tattoo. It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but knowing I would survive it, I wanted to do something to commemorate that.

I always knew I wanted the ribbon to represent the type of cancer I had, as well as the charity logo, and the word survivor – the tattoo artist helped bring my ideas to life.

John Hopkins at the gym
I’m looking forward to going out and about and to the gym with confidence (Picture: John Hopkins)

The appointment was made in October last year. It was easy to make the booking. The artist said that she had never seen anyone so still in a two-hour appointment.

We discussed our cancer experiences and what we wanted to achieve by getting this tattoo.

She said she was so proud to be involved and donated my first £1.

But my ink wasn’t just a celebration – I always knew I wanted it to have a purpose; to be a conversation starter and a way to normalize talking about cancer – especially among men.

When I was asked about it by a group, I knew it had done exactly as it stated.

The conversation about my tattoo sparked discussions about encouraging men not to hide their concerns and to recognize early signs of cancer. I have currently raised around £250, which I plan to donate to charity – my goal is to eventually raise £1,000.

Learn the signs

As part of the ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign, NHS England is encouraging anyone who has had tummy troubles such as discomfort or diarrhea for three weeks or more or seen blood in their pee – even just once, to contact their GP practice.

Persistent tummy troubles can be a sign of many cancers, including bowel, ovarian or pancreatic cancer, and blood in pee – even just once, can be a sign of urological cancers, including bladder or kidney cancer.

While it’s probably nothing serious, any of these symptoms could be a sign of something that needs treatment. If it’s cancer early detection, it’s possible to save lives.

Visit nhs.uk/cancersymptoms For more information, click here

I was in Dublin and saw a group of people talking about a friend who just had the disease. I ordered a beer for myself and asked them questions.

I told them he was not alone and showed them my tattoo – I took them through my cancer journey and was able to reassure them about their friend. They bought me a drink and thanked my efforts. I promised to relay the message to their friend.

A fundraiser was held at my 60th birthday party. I asked my friends to donate raffle prizes. All the money raised would be donated to charity – it was a huge success.

I am now proud to be supporting the NHS’ ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign, aiming to raise awareness of early signs of cancer and encourage the public to visit their GP with any concerns.

My message to other men is – please keep an eye on your body and if you’re unsure about anything, get it checked with your GP. It’s probably not cancer, but it’s always better to get checked out.

The chances of developing it are higher for certain men, like those over 50 and with a family history, so I’d encourage everyone to check their risk with Prostate Cancer UK’s online risk checker.

Only three questions are required to help the checker determine your risk. The process takes about 30 seconds. This is a great way to catch cancer early and improve your chances of a successful treatment.

As for me, I’ve got surgery coming up to help with the incontinence side effects. I’m looking forward to going out and about and to the gym with confidence.

It can be difficult for some people to talk about cancer. My tattoo helped me. It is easier to have normal conversations when we speak more.

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