8. Let’s talk about it

Stranger Talk

This page is a little different to the others. This page is an anthology (Love Islanders – A collection of short stories related by a theme or subject) of stories about talking about prostate cancer.

They are mostly in chronological order but all occur between when I was diagnosed and the operation itself.

Let’s go.

There are delays on the underground

I saw a couple of black guards at the train station and I decided to go and have a word, as you do.

“Hello gents, do you have a minute” I cheerily asked them.

They both looked up. I didn’t have any leaflets in my hands so that probably disarmed them if they were worrying about me trying to sell them timeshare or some knock off jewellery. One guy was average height and weight, dark complexion and short hair. The other guy was about six foot tall, slim build, light complexion and had dreadlocks.

“Well I have been visiting Guys hospital downstairs for a couple of months now as I have been diagnosed with prostate cancer”. I wouldn’t say I just drove in but more like I fired up the bat mobile and armed the guns.

They looked at each other, then looked at me then back at one another. The tall guy with dreads spoke first.

“I’m very sorry to hear that” he said probably wondering what that had to do with directions to another station or the time of the next train to Clapham junction. The other guard looked like he was terrified. No, he was actually terrified. I had to wonder if he misheard me say I had smallpox.

“I am telling you because one in three black men will end up getting prostate cancer”.

“Oh wow, so how did you know” said Mr Tall.

“I just went for a general health check which was a blood test. It came out then. I didn’t have any symptoms at all. In fact, if you wait for symptoms then you have bigger problems” I replied.

Mr terrified who had not said a word at this stage really didn’t want to hear this or be here. He probably thought it was going to be a routine day. I didn’t think he was going to enjoy his lunch today somehow. To be fair had the tables been turned I may have been the same.

“So how does someone find out, what do you have to do?” Mr Tall asked. He was engaged and interested.

“You just ask your doctor for a simple PSA test. It only takes a few minutes to do and the results take about two weeks.” Mr Tall nodded in agreement. I got the impression he was going to make the call.

“Don’t wait for the symptoms as all the guys I have spoken to never had any either”

A lot of the colour had drained from Mr Terrified by now. It’s probably fair to say I ruined his day. I shook both their hands and went for my train.

There may have been some train delays that day. Sorry if you were affected.


 The two on the right are mine

There are many clinical trials going on around the world regarding prostate cancer treatment. At Guys there are a number that they are participating in. One of these trials is called the METAL trial and it involves investigating the possible effect a long established drug used for diabetes has on shrinking prostate cancer. It was while I was waiting to see Dr C that I was approached by one of the nurses, who was helping to run the trial, and I would have the pleasure of meeting Fee and Harriet. I cannot remember if it was Fee or Harriet who approached me first about joining. Of course it would be remiss of me to not tell you about them first so I have two analogies in mind – the bar fight and the restaurant. They are both attractive women, not even going to try and go there with the ages as all men know you get that wrong and you are either loved for life or not spoken to ever again. Therefore, imagine you are in a bar fight. Both of them are nurses so both will save your life should you come off worse – always handy to have. With Harriet by your side she will scream a lot, flap around a bit and plead for them not to hurt you. Once the police arrive she will be able to give the police a perfect run down of what happened and the perpetrators involved. With Fee by your side she will tell you which two she is going to rumble with and leave the others to you. Then it’s on and you better keep up. Regarding restaurants. You can take Fee anywhere and have a great time. If there is not a maître d’ at the door Harriet is not going to sully her feet walking in. Both really lovely women.

“Hi, are you Peter?” I nodded.

“Hiya can I tell you about a clinical trial that our team are conducting and see if you would like to help us?” She then went into the hard sell. Hard sell not because of anything she said but because black men are hard work – that’s me saying that! Getting us to go and get tested is the first massive hurdle. Getting us to go and pick up the flipping result is another. Then after all that we would rather  just bury our heads in our single silos and not think about helping others. Now that’s not all of us but unfortunately enough of us. OK that’s my rant over. I stopped her about thirty seconds into her talk.

“What do you need me to do” I smiled.

I had momentarily thrown her, before she gave me a big smile. It’s not meant to be this easy. Many of the facts and figures I have used in this blog have come from conversations with these nurses. It was the start of a great working relationship.


Soft grenades

I had not told my eldest daughter Lauren about my condition. If fact I had not even told my family about my condition at this point as I could not take the risk of them letting slip to my daughter. Generally, if I tell mum something the door handle is not even cold before she is on the phone to my sister. Lauren was in the middle of completing her final university dissertation and I didn’t want anything distracting her from that.

The week before though I went over to mums to tell her and my brother. My mum has four main emotional traits anger, calm, laughter and judge mum. We saw enough of the anger growing up. The three of us were a handful at the best of times and we didn’t listen as kids do. She raised us alone and loved us without words and beat some off the black of us when she needed to. We all came out just fine and happy. I only ever saw my mum cry once. It was back in the mid-seventies (no mobiles back then) and she had been out shopping. She was heading back home and saw a little white girl of about six who was lost and crying. She took the girls hand and was asking her if she could try and remember her way home. She couldn’t so my mum was taking her to the police station. Half way there and the little girls mum came out of nowhere and was screaming at my mum accusing her of trying to take her daughter away. This was back in the seventies so it would not be complete without throwing in some racial slurs and comments. My mum came back in and sat down and silently cried for a little while, straightened up and it never happened.

I sat mum down and told her straight what had happened to me. She was calm and listened intently. She took it very well, not worried at all on the surface anyway. I can definitely see where some of my ‘strength’ has come from. See but I don’t class myself as particularly strong or brave at all – that’s what others have said not me. I am just getting on with the cards dealt to me. Judge mum then slammed open the door and made her entrance.

Was I sure the doctor was qualified?  Sometimes they are wrong!  Did I get a second opinion?

Did I read the letter properly?  Was I sure?  How did I feel?  Does my sister know?  There was more but I had left my body and floated off somewhere peaceful.

My brother came in just as I had finished talking or should I say just as mum had finished with me. I told him the story and that he needed to get tested. Unlike Mr Terrified my brother was much more responsive. He rubbed his brow a number of times, swore a lot, rubbed his brow again, slumped down on the step, looked worried and genuinely cared. He did later go on to get tested and was all clear.

Lauren had successfully finished her dissertation and I had to make sure the news came from me. The last leg of the journey to her house involves this long straight walk, of about ten minutes from the bus stop. Generally it’s a pain in the butt walk and a swear word walk in adverse weather but today it would serve as an opportunity to script a softer version of how I could tell her about my prostate cancer. I know I was used to lobbing grenades but something softer was called for.

She greeted me with a big hug and we went into the kitchen. Her mum and aunt were already sitting there which was actually the best situation I could have hoped for as she would not be left alone with the news. I asked her to sit down, there was a little trepidation on her part as she did so.

“I couldn’t tell you before you finished your studies but the day after my birthday I was diagnosed with prostate cancer” Unfortunately the long walk was not quite long enough for me to work on my delivery.

“No, no, no” she screamed out and instantly burst into tears.

I ran over to her and knelt before her hugging her. “No, this is actually a very good thing, it was caught in time so it’s good” I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

She was utterly confused. I was telling her I had cancer but I was grinning, ear to ear. I told her the whole story. I also added that I was going to miss her graduation as it was the week after the operation. She didn’t care that I was going to miss her graduation – it was nothing compared to my well-being. She was horrified that I tried to postpone the operation so I could be there. I then spent the next twenty minutes dispensing my newly acquired expertise on prostate cancer to the three of them. Her mum remarked she was very grateful that I postponed telling her and it was hugs all around. Lauren walked me out and gave me one of the biggest and longest hugs ever. She was still puffy eyed and upset but I said I was not leaving without a smile.

I got one and went on my way.


Can I have your autograph?

The surgery date had been set for the fifth of July. In one of the appointments with Dr C, before the operation, I had tried to change the date to September so I could attend both Lauren’s and my other daughters graduation. No nonsense Dr C was having none of it.

“We really need to do this within four weeks of the diagnosis” Said Dr C.

Fortunately I had the lovely Annette, in my corner, sitting next to me. Unfortunately she too totally agreed with Dr C that (think of a posh voice) putting off my dissection was folly and that we should proceed post haste. Nice that they could both agree on that.

Later that evening, thoroughly peeved I decided I was going to drown my sorrows in junk food. I was jolly well going to go all out and not only supersize the said meal but also have a dessert on top. On the way there I stopped in the newsagents and picked up a paper to read and shoved it in to my bag. Other than it being the paper that I normally purchase, The Daily Mail, I didn’t give the front page a second glance. Once inside the restaurant with the meal set out I took the newspaper out of my bag. That week they were running a series on major illnesses and the top twenty specialists in each field. The day before they had covered breast cancer and today was prostate cancer. I had absolutely no idea that this was going to be in the newspaper. I just stared at the front page for a couple of minutes not believing what I was seeing. I didn’t want to have a look. How would I feel if Dr C was not in it? It was irrational that I was going to let a newspapers opinion change my positivity. I sat and pondered. Sod it I finally said and opened the newspaper.  Midway down on the right hand side was a picture of Dr C of course! One of the top twenty specialists in the country as voted by his peers. I knew God was in this all along from the very beginning. This clipping, which I carry everywhere with me, is the reminder that there is a higher power in control.



3 thoughts on “8. Let’s talk about it

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Easy to read and a good laugh along the way. Not only are you preparing me for what may happen to my husband but also a good insight of how some men behave.
    Good job Peter.


  2. This is such a great blog Peter, not only because you have so accurately captured Harriet and I, but because your accurate description of each event is well written, funny, relatable and so ‘real’ . No patient information sheet or professional website will ever provide the honest insight into a cancer diagnosis that you have. Well done.


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