As I got off the train and approached the exit Mr terrified spotted me from about thirty feet. We had eye contact for a second and then a couple of tourists who were minding their own business looking at a map were very suddenly interrupted by a rather keen underground attendant offering his help and burying his face into their map. He gave it away with the odd fleeting look my way as I approached. It really tickled me that for this poor man I was the nearest thing to the grim reaper with an afro. I thought about just waiting patiently to talk to him until he had finished his pretend interest and really messing with his head and his day but not today.
I had made a promise to God to be a mouthpiece about prostate cancer. Not that you can really make deals with God as such but it was easy as I was dedicated to helping others. Just speaking to friends and family and gently ambushing strangers was never going to be enough. In my investigations about prostate cancer I had come across Prostate Cancer UK (PCUK). As they are always looking for volunteers I filled in a contact form and about a week later I got a call and spoke to a very pleasant woman called Emma. I was impressed to say the least. After a few emails I was invited to attend their quarterly meeting for volunteers called the Hub meeting. I was also told that to make sure that I mingled with the group and if there was anyone that I would like to be ‘buddied’ with. They have a buddy system where you shadow an experienced volunteer until you are confident enough to go out on your own. You can volunteer to shake a bucket, man a desk, give out leaflets or give talks.
It just so happened that their offices are just a few minutes from Guys hospital so London bridge station was the nearest station. As I stepped off the train who should I see in the distance but my old friends Mr Tall and Mr Terrified from my previous blog ‘8. Prostate cancer : Lets talk about it’. I left Mr Terrified pretending to make his determined bid for employee of the year with the surprised tourists and went over to Mr Tall.
“Hi, do you remember me?” I asked smiling away.
“I see hundreds of people every day Sir, so I am not going to remember them all” He replied smiling.
“I’m the guy that spoke to you a couple of months ago about prostate cancer”. He took about 2 seconds to register and then let out the biggest smile I have seen in a long time. I put my hand out and he didn’t let go of it.
“Oh wow yes of course I remember. Look I had the test and it was all clear” he was pointing to the inside of his elbow.
“And how about you are you all clear now, how’s it going?”
“I got the all clear in August but there is still a way to go with the rehab” I answered.
“Well you look well and it’s so good to see you” He replied. I told him that I had mentioned our first encounter in my blog and would love him to read it. He took out an ‘old school’ mobile. I had not seen one of those for a while. If I had bought one of those for my daughter, to take to secondary school, her first call could have been to Childline. He said he didn’t really do technology but wished me well. We spoke for a couple more minutes and said our bye’s . Mr Terrified looked up at me and then spun his head back into the map and managed to find a spot on the map that he had not covered in his explanations to the couple. If I had the time and was bad mind enough, I would find a fancy dress shop and hire a rubber or inflatable long handled sickle and really come back and mess with him.
Hmmmm, never say never. Not finished with you yet!…..
Mr Tall had absolutely made my day.
It took me a couple of attempts to find PCUK offices as it was tucked away slightly off the main road. I got my visitors badge and made my way up to the fourth floor. Nice building and a nice looking office. The room was packed. I counted twenty two men and two women around an oval table. You know that seat right at the front that some sap decides to take but they are then blocking a bit of the powerpoint display? Well that was my seat I didn’t have a choice. In the room there were only three black guys including myself. The other guys in the room were all white guys, with ages ranges I guessed to be from their fifties to seventies.
I arrived with them in the middle of giving a short introduction about themselves. That was all standard stuff until one guy said he had had the radical operation (the same as mine),
Blah, blah, blah – “And I’m pretty much useless down there” as he gestured downwards with his head and a weak smile. It certainly stunned the room for a few seconds reminding us of the brutality of this thing for some sufferers.
When it came to me one of guys asked me how old I was as they thought I was much younger (I really like this group already). They also asked for confirmation when I said that I had the surgery just a couple of months ago as they all seemed to have their operations years ago. One of the first men to speak was telling us what groups and where he had been holding meetings. His preferred areas were golf clubs and Rotary clubs.
Either a company or a group can have a corporate or one off relationship with PCUK and request to have a speaker for one of their meetings or fundraisers etc. Then the request gets put out to the hub and whoever is available volunteers. There are other hubs in Birmingham and Northern Ireland I believe they said. Volunteers are also free to try and forge their own relationships which they can then pass back to PCUK who will look at establishing contacts from a corporate viewpoint.
Another guy was talking about his successes with Freemason groups while another guy was talking about the difficulty they were having at football grounds. One guy works on London Underground and he was discussing how he may be able to get permission for some of the others to shake buckets at their local underground stations.
One of the black guys, called David, mentioned how he has been trying to target faith groups and churches with limited success. He mentioned that they are hard work but have been getting a little more receptive. One of the white guys said he could not imagine how talking to black groups is anymore harder than any other group.
That made me smile. Some of them didn’t have a clue. Try selling a vegetarian meal to a Lion!
David turned and said “Sometimes I tell them don’t get tested then. The ground is never full and always has plenty of room for more”
Some of the guys were visibly shocked. One guy with half glasses on the end of his nose nearly dropped them, while one nearly choked on his drink.
I burst out laughing and then had a grin that didn’t shift. I absolutely loved it.
“You cannot say that” replied another. A few others were shaking their heads.
Yes, you might not be able to say that down the local Rotary club but a Brixton full of hard headed black guys that don’t want to listen it was perfect.
I had found who I wanted to buddy with.
We had a lunch break and it was a chance to mingle. I exchanged a few words and stories with a couple of the guys. It was actually nice to talk about prostate cancer (and even generally) to men who had experienced it. What made this different was the atmosphere was very positive and not filled with doom and gloom as with the seminars. Two of the other white guys that I spoke to smiled as they agreed that talking to black guys was very different. We both had a laugh about that. One of the female organisers came over to me and introduced herself.
“hi Peter, I’m Maria. It’s great to be able to put a face to the name”
She had me at an advantage over me as the only person I had spoken to from PCUK was Emma.
“Somebody in our marketing team had said had I had a look at this. It was your blog” She added smiling.
I told her of my mission and why I had written it.
I smiled. I had previously looked at the PCUK website when I considered joining and saw their external links to other blogs. Not impressed, I sent along the link to mine as you do.
“I really enjoyed reading it. It is very different and open”
“Do you think you could talk as openly as that to men? It’s just what we need. Would you have a think about it?”
I looked at her and smiled. “I’ve thought about it. When would you like me to start?”
I had just signed myself up for my first talk with PCUK.