Once a year my church holds a men’s breakfast meeting. This is where the men of the church and their invited male guests get together and to talk and listen to a series of discussions concerning men.
It’s a popular belief that men don’t talk. Well give us the right environment and we will talk. In fact, we will talk quite happily until the cows come home. We just won’t do it during our partners favourite television program, the split second we walk through the door, when we are actively trying to get some sex. We also don’t expect our partners to have the telepathic abilities to sense not only when we want to talk but what we want to talk about too.
My friend Richard is one of the members of the men’s committee and I asked him if I could have a fifteen minute slot to give a talk. Naturally he asked me why. Naturally I told him I didn’t want to tell him but would he just trust me on this one. Now I have known Richard for a number of years and we are pretty close, I was one of the groomsmen at his wedding. It was still a big ask to get him to trust me. I have to say I would be pretty nervous myself as well. I mean I could have spat out any number of revolutionary mumbo jumbo before being hastily jumped and bundled off the stage Brixton secret service style. He said he would have to get back to me as it was a big request and it would have to be authorised by other members of the committee. A few days later he got back to me and said it was a very unusual request but based on his personal vouch for me it was agreed – nervously. Now I can only assume he is not a fan of the program ‘Can’t pay won’t pay’ which is based on the daily antics of a company of bailiffs who travel up and down the country gently persuading people to pay their debts. One particularly sad part of the program is when they visit personal guarantors who have not only vouched for someone (normally a family member) but they have signed an agreement making them personally liable to their defaults. It always tragically goes pear shaped for the guarantor. Had he been a fan he might have thought differently.
I got there on time or as we say in the caribbean world ‘I was early’. Inside the room it was smartly laid out, ten tables of eight seats each nicely decorated. The rich food was cooking in the background and the aroma was delicious. Think of fresh rice and peas steaming away mixed with sweet plump chicken marinating in generous exotic seasoning and other foods. Then of course there is the swine spoiling things as it swims in its own rotten worm juice (couldn’t resist, not a fan). Now as the saying goes the way to a man’s heart is through his big belly and that’s absolutely right. However the twist with black men is yes it’s the way to his heart but that still does not mean he will be on time.
One of the other committee members and another good friend is a chap called Jide. A delightful fellow with unfortunately large and very heavy hands. By that I mean put your hand out to shake his and he will slap it with such force it will set your hand on fire. He then collapses with laughter while you are still shaking your hand trying to air cool it. The point you may ask? Well it was just there. Anyways he had a good friend of his that died of prostate cancer a few years ago and since then he has done tremendous things volunteering for prostate cancer charities. He had put a couple of prostate cancer leaflets on all the tables in the optimistic hope that they would be read. He might as well have put up a sign on the door saying they had been sprinkled with lethal voodoo dust or they were wired to the mains electricity as they were to all remain undisturbed on the tables. I did pick one up of the leaflets and read it. It was very pretty and technical but in my humble opinion I could see why it was ineffective. It was just too soft, too technical and too pretty. It also lists a number of symptoms, that I would later find out from guys that have had prostate cancer, that most guys never had. It just does not hit home or put it right in your face.
A few people that know me and knew that I had a talking spot asked me what I was going to talk about I just smiled. Some of the women support staff who had come with their partners asked if they could listen in. I said it would be a very good idea for them to do so.
The time of my talk had been put back by half an hour which was a good thing as men were continuing to arrive. I had not prepared a speech at all, I had decided that I would just talk about my journey and leave enough time to answer any questions that may come. Five minutes to go and there were about sixty men in the room now who had all been fed and watered. Two minutes to go and I made my way up to the small stage. I was then given the microphone and the room was hushed.
“Hi my name is Peter. I know some of the faces in here but most of you I don’t know. Well I turned fifty the other day and the very next day I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That’s not I know someone or somebody I know knows somebody, I actually have it”
A funny thing happened that I didn’t expect. You could hear a pin drop. Nobody was on their phone texting, nobody was having a side conversation. Sixty odd sets of eyes were absolutely transfixed on me.
I spoke for the next ten minutes, telling them about my journey. I included the fact that I am as hard headed as they are and had the tables been turned I still probably would have not got tested myself as I had none of the common symptoms. It could not possibly happen to me and of course I would not have wanted to go through the bother of taking time off work. I finished off with telling them they don’t even just have to get the PSA test in isolation. They could have a complete health check as well, which is the route that I went down.
I got a standing ovation and they prayed for me. I was quite moved.
Question time and two of the guys mentioned that they had asked their local surgeries for a PSA test and the surgeries refused to send them for the test. Incensed, I told them to go right back in there and demand one, they cannot refuse. I was later to find out from Fee, one of the trial nurses, that this is actually quite common. If a patient has a borderline PSA score then the surgery becomes financially liable for the battery of tests that may follow afterwards (Digital Rectal Exam, ultrasound, MRI, biopsy) so some of them have their own checklist based on age, family history etc. which they tick off before authorising the test. I was later to be told by Richard that his local surgery did just that and tried their very hardest to put him off getting a test done and he had to demand that the nurse put him onto the doctor. The doctor then tried the same thing but he persisted and he was sent for the test. It would later, thankfully, come back normal.
I had to clarify again to two of the guys that I didn’t have any symptoms.
That didn’t go down too well but that was good, that’s what I wanted them to take away with them. This is where, in my personal opinion, the official literature is wrong in concentrating on talking about the symptoms as opposed to just suggesting testing based on age. Even in my own case having been tested a few years earlier or knowing my family history things could have been a little different for me.
I had gone well over my allotted time but no-one seemed to mind.
I was to hear later that one guy that was there described the breakfast to others as ‘carnage’ – brilliant that’s just what was needed. Richard was to tell me that lots of guys had told other guys that were not there what had happened and what was said. He had also heard from guys that said they were going to get tested and others that were asking older guys, who were also not there, if they had been tested.
One of the nicest things I was to hear was that someone, who I don’t know, but was there at the talk was in church on Sunday and went up for a prayer from the pastor but said it was not for himself but “for the guy that spoke yesterday at the men’s ministry breakfast”.
I was very humbled but pleased at least more than one guy had gone and got tested. Also that it became such a talking point.
I was even more pleased with all the extra work I had just given some surgeries.