WE all know him as the jovial, smiling face of darts. But Dennis Priestley has been through some dark times. DAVID BEDDOWS checks out the Mexborough ace who refused to give in to cancer after being diagnosed with the killer disease a decade ago.
PLAYING smart and thinking smart were essential for Dennis Priestley during his darts heyday.
But it was away from the bright lights and the noise of the big stage where the man affectionately called The Menace made the smartest move of all.
When, a decade ago, Dennis suspected something was amiss with his health, he didn't dither as long as others. He went to get help and the prize has been much bigger than any of the titles he won on the oche.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer, he has come through it and gone on to live a normal life and next month, Dennis, will mark a decade since he underwent an operation to combat his illness.
Dennis Priestley with Bobby George and Martin Adams.
Now, like then, the disease remains a big killer. One in eight men are diagnosed with it in the UK and one man dies from prostate cancer every 45 minutes. It's the most common cancer in males.
The key to survival is early diagnosis and, as he approaches a milestone in his life, it's a message Dennis is keener than ever to get out.
"Prostate cancer isn't easy to detect but there is always some kind of sign," he says. "I always tell people not to be shy if they've got urinary problems. It's something men are shy about, it can be a macho thing, but being shy could cost you your life."
After being diagnosed, Dennis had radiotherapy at Weston Park, something which opened his eyes to how many people suffered from cancer.
"I was given the option of more radiotherapy, which shrivels the prostate, or go for a full operation to remove the prostate gland. Obviously I didn't go into it lightly, I went to see two or three specialists before I decided.
"When I did, the surgeon told me 'you've made the right choice'.
" I had a cut made from my belly button to my penis. It was a big operation. They took out my prostate gland and re-routed the tubes. The important thing is that I saw someone, got the problem diagnosed, had it dealt with and I'm here to tell the tale.
"These days the operation is less daunting. There is keyhole surgery and more skilled surgeons around.
"Nearly all cancers can be beaten if caught early enough, including prostate.
"I'm the proof after ten years if you get it diagnosed early enough you can beat it."
Dennis, now 67, retired from competitive darts two-and-a-half years ago. "Time was against me," he admits.
He still has to go for checks every months on his PSA level and still dedicates time to fighting the illness.
Mexborough's famous sporting son, Dennis remains the only man to have won both the BDO and PDC World Championships, lifting the titles in 1991 and 1994 respectively.
With the PDC event currently in full swing and the BDO due to get underway in the New Year, it is timely that Dennis is backing The Men United Arms, an initiative centering on pubs, bars and clubs. The aim is to raise awareness and get conversations started in places where people feel comfortable talking.
Dennis has been joined by two other big names of darts, Bobby George and Martin Adams, who was himself diagnosed with the illness in 2016.
Added Dennis: "This is a great incentive. Pubs predominantly are where men want to go and they are usually around my age, from 40s into 70s and that's around the time you need to be aware of problems."
To find out how you could help stop prostate cancer being a killer visit www. prostatecanceruk.org/darts
Calling all pubs...
MORE than 500 pubs have already signed up to Prostate Cancer UK's Men United Arms campaign to get men talking about, recognising and learning about the disease as well as helping organise fund-raising. It is backed by Dennis Priestley and fellow darts personalities Martin Adams and Bobby George.
James Beeby, director of fundraising for Prostate Cancer UK, said: "It is great to team up with three legends of the game in Dennis, Martin and Bobby to further spread the word.
"It's all about knowing the numbers when playing darts, but not enough people are aware of the harsh statistics about this disease.
"Darts and pubs go hand in hand and we need landlords to join others across the country to come together and support their customers in helping beat it.
"I encourage all landlords to turn their pubs into a Men United Arms to help us save men's lives."
For a free information and fund-raising pack visit: prostatecanceruk.org/get-involved/men-united-arms
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