A Perthshire man has told how his cancer may not have been discovered had he not selflessly donated a kidney to his wife.
Last March, Billy Grierson, 66, attended a routine blood test, as he had done regularly since donating a kidney to wife, Lynn, in 2013.
The test revealed his levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) to be high, which prompted further investigation.
In an interview with The Courier and Evening Telegraph, the couple shares their health journeys revealing how their experiences brought them closer together.
‘We would do it for each other’
Billy and Lynn, from Comrie, were married in 1988 after being introduced by a mutual friend.
Shortly after their wedding, Lynn began experiencing symptoms of polycystic kidney disease – a condition her father had lived with and sadly passed away from before the chance of a transplant.
Lynn was diagnosed with the condition and in 2011, the couple was told she would need a transplant.
Billy remembers: “At one of the appointments, the consultant turned to me and said, ‘you know Billy, with the new drugs, there’s a possibility you might be able to donate.’
“We’d just assumed if it was a living donation, it would be a close family relative, or Lynn would go on the transplant list and wait for a kidney to become available. Who knew when that might happen.
“So, he caught me unawares, it was the last thing I was expecting. He asked if I would be interested, and I said ‘of course’.
“I didn’t even look at Lynn – we would do it for each other so there was never any discussion.
“I had my first test that day and we discovered I was a match for Lynn.”
‘He was doing it for his love of me’
The couple had surgery at the same time in November 2013 and the transplant was successful.
Lynn laughs: “We certainly do support each other in every way.
“It was one of those strange feelings where you think ‘do I really want him to go through all that for me?’
“There were joint and individual discussions with a psychologist who knew straight away he was doing it for his love of me.
“We both came through it absolutely fine. We were in the same hospital in different high dependency units. After the surgery, one of the nurses wheeled him through to me, just to make sure we could see one another.”
‘I had no symptoms whatsoever’
Having supported each other through Lynn’s diagnosis and their subsequent operations, the couple were once again rocked when Billy was given his own devastating diagnosis with prostate cancer in 2020.
Billy, remembers: “I really didn’t think there was much to concern myself with because I had no symptoms whatsoever.
“My GP told me he’d send me for some tests and at that point he mentioned cancer. Well, I broke into a cold sweat because I really didn’t expect it.”
Lynn was equally shocked by the news: “It was devastating. We weren’t expecting it. When the call came in, it was hard to take.
“We supported one another through that, but it’s hard to see the person you love in difficulties and trying to understand why he had this horrible cancer.”
‘The Big C’
Billy continues: “I grew up in an era when cancer was whispered about – it was ‘The Big C’ at the time.
“In the 60s and 70s, when you were diagnosed there wasn’t a great chance of recovering from it, so that was my immediate thought. But then very quickly I thought ‘we’re 50 years on here’.
“Obviously for anybody, cancer is a devastating diagnosis. But I’m glad Lynn was there for me as well of course.
“If I’d been dealing with it on my own, that would have been a totally different matter. We got through it with teamwork.”
Billy chose to have surgery to treat the cancer last summer.
However, Lynn had been shielding throughout lockdown because of her transplant. This meant she was unable to support Billy as she would have liked to.
She explains: “I couldn’t go to any of the appointments with Billy because I was shielding.
“So, every appointment he went to, he went on his own. That was quite difficult, not being there to support him as he supported me through my transplant.
“When he went in for the operation, I just had to drop him off outside Ninewells and wave him off. I didn’t see him again until I went along the following day to pick him up.
“It was a difficult few months but we were there for one another.”
‘The stars were lined up for me’
Thankfully, Billy’s cancer didn’t spread and the couple is looking forward to what the future holds.
And they are dedicated to raising awareness to ensure others get checked at the first sign of symptoms.
Billy enthuses: “I am absolutely blessed. The stars were lined up for me because I didn’t have any symptoms. I couldn’t have wished for it to have gone any better.
“We feel very strongly that if we can do anything to highlight these issues and encourage people to get checked, put us at the top of the queue. That’s what we do.”