Scotland star Chris's father fights battle against cancer

WHEN CHRIS Cusiter walks out on to the Murrayfield turf for the Calcutta Cup game against England today, he knows that somewhere in the west stand there is a man about to follow his every step, wince at every missed pass and feel every challenge as if it was his.

The rugby star's dad, Stan, follows his son's international games like a shadow - testament to his role as father, fan and motivational guru to the young scrum half.

But today's game will also bring back painful memories for Cusiter senior.

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It was as he watched, transfixed by his son's first cap two years ago at Cardiff Millennium Stadium, that Stan Cusiter realised something was wrong - he couldn't stop going to the toilet. Within days, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the beginning of a two-year fight against the disease which claims almost as many lives as breast cancer.

"It was a bitter-sweet day," Stan, 53, admitted. The family were "high as kites" watching Chris, their youngest son, win his first cap - but the elation was short-lived.

Fortunately, Ruth Cusiter is a nurse and urged her husband to have a check-up with the GP. Stan had little idea of where the prostate gland was or what it did, never mind the complications it can cause.

"I had noticed problems before, but just thought it was to do with old age. Like a typical man I did not know anything about the symptoms of prostate cancer," he said. His GP, who had suffered prostate cancer himself was sympathetic, but it was still a shock when Stan was diagnosed. The biggest risk factor for prostate cancer is age, and it is extremely rare to develop the disease at only 51.

"It was surreal," he said. "I was five minutes into the interview before the penny dropped that this was prostate cancer. It was a pretty scary moment."

He is not the first to be ignorant of a disease which kills almost as many Scots as breast cancer - 800 of the 2,000 men diagnosed every year. A recent survey by the Prostate Cancer Charity found almost 90 per cent of Scottish men surveyed did not know where the prostate gland was, although one in 15 will suffer from the disease at some point in their lives.

When Stan was diagnosed, the family immediately rallied round.

Stan had his prostate gland removed, and this was followed by radiotherapy throughout the summer of 2005, which meant he missed Chris playing with the British Lions in New Zealand.

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But things were about to get worse: the radiotherapy failed to get rid of the remaining cancer cells; months later it was found to have spread to his bones.

Now it is a case of containing rather than curing the cancer. Prostate cancer feeds off testosterone, so Stan was given a course of treatment to suppress the hormone.

This treatment can control the cancer for years but causes predictable side-effects similar to the female menopause. Laughing ruefully, Stan says that at least he and his wife are going through it together.

For Chris, only 23, playing for Scotland and seemingly invincible, prostate cancer seems further away. Yet his father's experience has switched him on to the risk of the disease.

"It has definitely increased my awareness," he said . "Whether you think it can affect you or not, it is better to be well informed."

Chris has given talks to raise money for prostate cancer research and is as open as his father in discussing the disease.

Stan said he is in no pain and he continues to work as a lawyer in the Aberdeen firm of Burnett-Reid as well as playing the occasional round of golf.

But for him it is watching his sons play rugby that really counts.

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"I am trying to be as positive as I can. I have always tried to enjoy life to the full and live every day," he said.

Despite his youth, Chris too appears to have taken a very mature attitude to the news of his father's condition.

"It is unpleasant but I try and think how unpleasant it is for dad and mum and everyone involved," he said. "It is not good news but you have to think of the good things."

He admits it is always easier to talk about rugby than prostate cancer. Fortunately Stan, 53, and once a district level player himself, feels the same, and it is hard to get a word in edgeways when the two get on to the subject.

At home the family talk of nothing else, to the irritation of the only female in the household, Chris's mother Ruth.

But she was as proud as Stan when Scotland beat France in the opening game of this season's Six Nations Championship.

"The French game was one of the best days of my life," said Stan. "I joined the lads for a drink afterwards and the look on their faces after they came in was worth a million dollars. I am just hoping for the same result against England."

Rugby was nurtured in the Cusiter household, with regular trips to Murrayfield and balls scattered around the house. Not surprisingly, Chris was given nothing but support when he decided to sign professional with the Borders two seasons ago, after completing a law degree at Edinburgh University.

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"I knew he would make it," Stan said. "He was always an outstanding rugby player."

Asked if his family were supportive of Chris's decision to go professional, the pair look perplexed. "What madman would not support a place in the Scotland team against a career in law?"

His relationship with his parents is also very important to Chris. "When I got my first cap it meant a huge amount to me but I know it also meant a lot to my mum and dad," he said. "It was my ambition to play for Scotland but it was for my dad as well."

The text Stan sent his son before his Scotland debut shows the passion of his dad's support: "Just remember how f****ng good you are," he wrote.

Stan knows his role. "One of your problems is you do not believe enough in yourself," he tells his son. "My job is to boost you."

Stan's prostate cancer may have helped Chris - he admits it has totally changed his perspective on life: "I went through a stage at the start of my career when I took it too seriously. When something like this came up it put things in perspective. You realise playing rugby is not life and death."

Prostate facts

PROSTATE cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK, killing at least one man every hour.

Famous men who have had the disease include Nelson Mandela, Robert de Niro and Charlton Heston.

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But almost 90 per cent of men do not know where the prostate gland is, never mind what it does.

Maureen Hamill, the only specialised prostate cancer nurse in Scotland with the Prostate Cancer Charity, said men need to be more aware in order to spot the disease. She explained that the prostate is a walnut-sized gland at the base of the bladder.

Symptoms of problems can include constantly needing to urinate, problems or pain while urinating and having a weak flow.

The first test men will usually have is a blood test for the protein the prostate produces called Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA).

If levels are definitely raised this can indicate problems with the prostate gland, although that does not always mean cancer. Doctors may also give a physical examination called a digital rectal examination (DRE).

Once prostate cancer is detected, treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy and hormone treatment.

For more information go to: or phone 0845 300 8383.