Joe’s Vitality story: A prostate cancer journey


At 70, Joe Cairns was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Here, he talks about his journey back to health with Vitality

Vitailty member smiling gym prostate cancer

In the July of 2021, Joe Cairns, an accountant from Perth and Vitality member, celebrated reaching the ripe age of 70.

Happily, he had sailed through life relatively ailment-free, needing only to see his GP a handful of times.
It was then that he was urged by his family to undergo a full health screening through Vitality partner Bluecrest.

The results showed he had a raised prostate specific antigen, or PSA, level, meaning he was at risk of a cancer diagnosis.
Later, he was diagnosed with low-level prostate cancer.

Here, he tells his story of finding a personal trainer and how Vitality supported him through his treatment and why he’s not ready for his ‘pipe and slippers’ just yet.

“On 10 July 2021, I had been on this earth for exactly 70 years. A fine achievement having no illnesses other than minor ailments. Having registered with my GP practice for 35 years, we only saw each other a handful of times.

Reaching 70, I thought it was time for the ‘pipe and slippers’. Having reached this milestone, my family were urging me to get a health check, and being a typical Scottish accountant, I noted that Vitality had partnered with Bluecrest and health checks were available at a discount.

‘With Vitality I felt I had someone holding my hand through a difficult process’

Joe Cairns

The first page of the Bluecrest report said I had a good metabolic age, but page two told me to contact my GP as soon as possible as my PSA level was elevated.

Having booked an appointment with my GP, he warned me that the PSA was at a level where there was a chance of cancer being present. Referring me to a specialist consultant, he gave me some advice.

A journey to the gym

I was told to get as fit and healthy as possible, as it would help me endure any treatment and that I would recover quicker and it would help with my mental wellbeing over the period. As a result, my family sprang into action and arranged for six sessions with a personal trainer at our local council-run gym.

 As a Vitality member, you could get a Vitality Healthcheck or a Bluecrest Health Screening.

Available with qualifying health insurance and life insurance plans. Log into Member Zone for the details.

Previously, my visits to the gym had consisted of a quick run on a treadmill and then a whizz around some of the machines. It was with some trepidation that I sat down with Mark, who would be my allocated personal trainer, for an initial assessment.

I thought to myself “what on earth would he do with an overweight, unfit, 70-year-old, who thought a plank was a piece of wood and burpees was something to do with indigestion.

”This turned out to be a needless worry. I kept the fact that I was about to undergo tests for prostate cancer to myself. Instead, I told Mark that I just wanted to lose weight (it had crept up during Covid-19 lockdowns), get fitter and healthier.

I thought ‘what would he do with a 70-year-old who thought a plank was a piece of wood and burpees was something to do with indigestion’

Joe Cairns

Some sobering measurements showed my BMI was too high, my body fat at 32% was too high and that my waist-to-hips ratio could be better.

And so, Mark outlined a weekly one-hour personal training session with a mix of cardiovascular, mobility, core and strength exercises.

I had read other Vitality articles on finding a personal trainer and noted some important points to check. Make sure that they are qualified; your training programme should be personalised to your needs, age and ability; and the trainer should be asking you questions about nutrition, sleep, stress and general wellbeing.

Mark was fully qualified and really knew all about fitness training. Each week, he had typed out a programme specifically for me.

He checked my eating habits, sleep patterns and stress levels. He also made it clear that one hour of exercise a week was not sufficient. He told me I had to make a commitment on my side to spend at least another two hours on exercise.

He also gave me a supplementary programme to use if I came to the gym on my own and one to use at home without any equipment. At no point was he concerned about my ageing years.

He just wanted commitment, for me to turn up on time, with a good outlook on achieving the exercise programme.

My diagnosis

In the meantime, my test results diagnosed that I had localised, low level prostate cancer, which I would need to undergo treatment to cure.

At this point, through Vitality, I was transferred to the oncology team and assigned a dedicated Care Consultant and was given their direct phone and email. Susi Lord, my Care Consultant, was outstanding.

She was caring, empathetic, considerate and responsive. Before and after every medical appointment, she called to make sure I was okay, asked if I had any questions and what was happening next.


Susi deserves medals for her work. It made a huge difference and Vitality are to be congratulated for having this protocol of dedicated staff in place. With Vitality, I felt I had someone holding my hand through a difficult process.

I told Mark at this point that I would have to undergo treatment for prostate cancer, but not to go soft on my training plan.

He had suspected a change when I was battering lumps out of the boxing bag! Thankfully, my treatment plan was a new procedure, which didn’t involve surgery.

I was in and out on the Friday afternoon, back again on Monday to have the catheter removed, along with flow tests and an MRI scan – no pain and no side effects.

No ‘pipe and slippers’

I had my post procedure check-up a few months ago and another PSA test.

All is well and the PSA has dropped from 10.7 to 0.9. My consultant is pleased with this result, which indicates the procedure has been very successful and I have my next check-up in January.

Vitality was just brilliant and handled everything with superb efficiency.

Meanwhile, a year since I started with Mark, I have lost more than 14 kgs, my body fat has dropped from 32% to about 20%, BMI is into the good range, blood pressure is normal and recovery heart rate is so much better.

I feel fitter, healthier than ever. And, given this new lease of life, I have decided to continue with personal training.

This time it is for me and much to my surprise, I am really enjoying it. So, if you were like me with the attitude that at the age of 70, it was time for “pipe and slippers”, think again.

I feel great and regular exercise is now built into my time schedule It’s never too late to start and don’t let your age be a barrier.”

Members of Vitality that have a health insurance plan can contact us straight away if they have a health concern and can referred to our one-stop clinic. You won’t need to go through your GP first.

However, if you’re not insured with Vitality, please contact your GP as soon as possible and they can refer you to the NHS pathway should you require it.

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