22. Who let the volunteers out

Bars

We must have careered around the corner doing at least fifty miles per hour. The car skidded burning deep smouldering rubbery kisses into one of West London’s hard cold main roads. Momentarily, and in apparent slow motion, the car began to lift onto two wheels but he brutally slammed me into the car door with his left hand without breaking his right handed death grip on the steering wheel. Then then shot me a look that told me my life could be in danger if I tried anything. The multiple blue flashing police lights were furiously stabbing into the evening night behind us while the sirens relentlessly screamed in all directions. The police were gaining on us I was terrified what he was going to do next.

Well not quite. The complete opposite actually.

In fact, fourth gear was to remain unchartered territory on our journey. We never actually hit thirty one miles per hour and the traffic was steadily building up behind us. Think of an old western film and a posse of covered wagons. They are exploring new virgin lands on a single dirt trail – well that was us and unfortunately we were at the front and the arrows and shots were likely to start ringing out anytime from now from irate drivers behind us.

Dave is a gregarious sort. He lives in south London, married and has three grown up children. By profession he is an accountant, tax advisor, a writer, speaker and a whole host of other things. Oh and to just add to the mix he travelled the world as a lecturer for eighteen years. After telling Emma at PCUK that I would love to buddy with him (after his memorable one liner) we had a couple of chats on the phone and now I was on the way to his workplace for our road trip and my first ever experience of volunteering for PCUK.

Prostate cancer or the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ offered another present on this particular trip for me. It’s called urinary urgency. Its effects are the sudden and urgent need to pee from nowhere. I had experienced it once before just after having the catheter out and had to run off the bus and apologise and then assault a wall. This time I was doing a slow moonwalk and forward shuffle waiting for Dave to come out of his office. I was later to find that it is only carbonated drinks that causes this effect.

Dave had no symptoms at the time or so he thought. He had been passing blood and eventually the doctors decided to check his PSA. This came back at seven. Ten years previously he had had a heart attack. With this in mind they did not want to take the chance and operate on him and he had the radiotherapy and hormone option. He described the radiotherapy as ‘like cancer that creeps up on you slowly like a thief in the night’ and made him very tired over a long period of time. He described the hormone treatment, which was a course of tablets for six weeks, as ‘hell on earth’ and ‘six lost weeks’. I didn’t need any further clarification.

Like me he also heard from ‘cancer experts’ once his condition got out. He still has some stuff one ‘expert’ sent him sitting nicely on a shelf somewhere and not with the medical authorities. Apparently, they are not interested in the fame and fortune associated with the discovery of a cancer wonder cure.

He had heard from one of the team at Guys hospital about how hard is was getting through to the African Caribbean community. Joining PCUK was an opportunity to do something positive for the charity and for men’s health. He just wants to make an impact. He would like to see mandatory testing for prostate cancer like we have testing for breast cancer. He is also very much infuriated like me that some surgeries are playing with men’s lives by actively discouraging men not to get tested.

Like me he has also come across those guys that are completely stubborn despite all the warning signs. One particular story that upsets him is a family that buried their father who had prostate cancer. The two brothers are adamant that they are not going for tests and nobody is going to do anything to them and so on. Ignorance is never short of supporters.

We had been driving about thirty minutes and I glanced behind us. I saw a long line of cars and we were at the front of that queue. After a few more traffic lights I made an interesting discovery. I noticed that he never ever went into fourth gear. Now I watched this strange fact for the next ten minutes while slowly slipping down into my seat. I wanted to be invisible because we had become public enemy number one to the motorists behind us. My excitement of my first talk was being steadily diluted by the real possibility of us making headlines as motorist and passenger beaten to pulp by gang of irate West London motorists. It was beginning to burn me so I had to ask.

“Dave is there something wrong with your fourth gear? It’s not a criticism but I have noticed that you have never gone in to fourth gear on this journey”

He laughed and replied “Ever since the prostate cancer I have just slowed my life right down”

I mouthed ‘Wow’ to myself. He was here sharing a life changing decision. Prostate cancer turns your life around and you will make life changes some voluntary and some enforced. I thought for a second on the ones I have had to make and had made for me.

“That and too many points on my licence” He laughed. Well that killed that moment of melancholy for me and I laughed too and continued my slide down the car chair.

Eventually we reached the surgery, situated off the main road. We had time for a quick meal so we duly did so. Both as sustenance and fixing frayed nerves. Now I had not had any junk food since the operation and I intended to cut down my multiple visits to junk food down to  once a month ‘anything goes’ but today I had no option and seized on it and even went back for seconds. I was really pretty well frayed I convinced myself.

It was a small doctors surgery so we would be talking to the group in the waiting area in front of reception. This waiting area seated about twenty five patients so extra chairs were put along the sides. The waiting area led directly to the pharmacy separated by a retractable roller shutter where they had also put some additional chairs. The lack of space meant we could not put up the projector so Dave said he would just read from a handout and that we could do a double act. I thought he was joking. When we started there were about twenty odd men and a couple of women spanning all classes, races and ages. They were still continuing to trickle in.

David went through the short presentation that PCUK have provided. This covers what the prostate does, where it is and its size. Then it moves onto the signs and symptoms, knowing your risk, your rights and how to take action. I had not expected to talk at all. I thought I was there to smile, observe and hand out leaflets. I was safely propped up on the wall to the left. One of the patients ushered me to the front and the double act began. Dave spoke about how he found out he had prostate cancer and I then told my own version. I spoke again when it came to discussing what symptoms we did and didn’t have. The double act continued throughout the talk as we both had different procedures so we could give unique perspectives. I gave an extended chat about the nerves, impotence and incontinence. I was open and honest but mindful to say that it was not all doom and gloom as my PC had been discovered in time, which is the key point. When it came to questions there were a number of questions on the PSA, how to get it done, further clarification of the sexual aspects of the condition and a number of other questions.

At the end of the discussion, the room was packed with at least forty odd in attendance.  Nearly everyone waited to shake our hands and the few that didn’t waved and smiled before leaving. Everyone who spoke to me wished me luck and thanked me for my openness and honesty. It still amazes me that what I am trying to do and share is so unusual. One Indian man shook my hand and held onto it. He thanked me for my honesty and said how much he really enjoyed the talk and appreciated our time and that he would be getting tested. One of the three black men in attendance, while shaking my hand,  whispered in my ear that he had already been tested and he was in the clear. We smiled and hugged. The other two black men also said they were going to get tested. A few asked for my blog details and I can see that they have now subscribed.

All in all a brilliant and exhilarating discussion. All the more so because the surgery patients really enjoyed and appreciated it. Dave said afterwards that it was unusual that so many people stayed to shake hands and give their appreciation. They normally head straight for the door without saying a word. He said he also really enjoyed himself and we make a great double act. I agree.

So we loaded up the wagon and headed out back onto the plain with the angry convoy slowly building up behind us but this time I sat up in the chair still grinning, I didn’t care about the arrows and shots. They could always use another road.

 

4 thoughts on “22. Who let the volunteers out

  1. I’ve found that around here a lot of men will talk to me about it but never to each other. I ran a health club for a long time and had many many conversations with men young and old about the prostate, tests, cancers, enlargement etc. They all had so much in common but seemed terrified that the other men would find out they had a problem. I’m glad you’re putting this out there for men to read.

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  2. We are beginning to make a postive impact in some quarters almost reflecting Dave’s speed on thr road. However, we are getting through and making progress. The double act approach was a sure winner and helped the audience get two perspectives of the prostate cancer journey.

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    • Absolutely. They were expecting someone to just come down and TALK to them. However when you share the actual journey and consequences it leaves a lasting impression. I was quite affected by it, leaving me hungry to talk more 🙂

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