32. The Other Side


I was fascinated by DeeDee’s dad, Richard, from the last blog. I really wanted to learn more about his story. A couple of days later I asked her if she thought he would be up for an interview. She came back and said “Well that was easier that I thought it would be. He told me to give you his number.” I called him a couple of days later and we agreed to meet, two days later.

The interview was set for 9am in a coffee shop local to where Richard lives, one of the local high street jobbies. I got there at quarter past eight and there were about six other people sitting down in various stages of beverage consumption or internet use. I had always wanted to talk to someone who was going through the later stages of prostate cancer. Not from some ghoulish point of view but to be able to answer any questions that I was asked based on someone telling me first hand and not from a book or second hand. At the same time I was naturally interested.

I was particularly excited to do this interview. So much so I didn’t flinch when a young, pretty bank robber called ‘Barista’ extorted me for a cup of hot water with a bag in it and a blueberry muffin with a hidden precious gemstone baked somewhere inside it. The first table I found was towards the back of the cafe. It was quiet but a bit on the dark side and along the route to the toilets so I moved to a window seat. Richard arrived at ten minutes to nine and called me from outside. I told him I was already inside and tried a manly/cool dude wave as he turned around.

He was not what I expected. I was expecting to see an old man with a cane for some reason but he was nothing of the sort. Not likely to be running the London marathon but certainly younger looking than his years. We shook hands and I got him another extortionate cup of hot water and bag. He got comfortable and I told him about my blog and why I wanted to interview him. I got out my digital recorder and set it down on the table. We were ready to begin.

I had nearly sixty questions split into the sections; About you, Your kids, Your family, Prostate cancer and the Current situation. I figured that I would split the blog into two parts beforehand. I had this confirmed for me when he first said that he might have to leave at nine thirty and then minutes later wanted to finish the interview immediately because he thought it would make more sense to continue in February 2019 as that was his next hospital appointment and he would know how his treatment had gone. I said that was OK but how about we just cover his personal and family background now that we were here and address the prostate cancer part in detail and his future prognosis in another interview. He was happy with that.

Richard is sixty eight years old and lives in south London. He came over as a teenager from Jamaica. He followed his mother and sister who had established themselves here a few years earlier. This was in 1965. When his mother moved to America after only a few years in England he followed her there too and stayed for five years. He then moved between the two countries for a little while before deciding to stay with his sister in England. He would say that he had a great childhood. That is with the exception of his relationship with his father.

He never grew up with is father and had little physical contact with him. Then he just stopped coming around altogether. He would then only speak to him, over the phone, three more times in his lifetime. When his father died in 1987 he decided not to attend his funeral. He said to himself “Why should I go to the funeral as I don’t know the man as such.” He does not know what his father died of. It was his mother that was mother and father to him. It did hurt him but as he said life goes on and it’s just one of those things. At that moment when he shrugged his shoulder’s he reminded me of another stubborn, hardheaded but handsome person that I know only too well. That being the case I verified it later on in the conversation by asking a question that would reveal the secret hurt.

His father had heard that he was in America and called him. Other than exchanging small talk for fifteen minutes he said to him “You have three sisters and two brothers in Philadelphia and you should go and meet them”.

That would be the last time he would ever speak to his father again.

Richard did meet up with them, and though he got on well with two of the sisters and one of the brothers the other two siblings made it clear that they didn’t want to continue communication. He thinks his dad could have as many as forty children. I looked him straight in the eyes and raised my voice as I repeated the number. He didn’t flinch, other than a wry smile as he said, “That’s why I would never date Jamaican women, because they could be family and I don’t even know it”.

He has never married but laughs as he says nearly but decided against it. He has been with his current partner for more than forty years. He has five daughters; DeeDee, Brenda, Patricia, Toni and Linda from four different women. He would describe the birth of DeeDee as the greatest moment of his life and if he could change one thing about his life it would be to not have so many ‘baby mothers’.  He also added that he would have bought property way back instead of buying a nice car. He is religious but not practising. He has this view of church that some of the people that go there are worse than him and that they have an over importance of making money from their parishioners. In his lifetime he has been a bus driver and a chauffeur. However, he would describe as his best job ever being a courtesy car delivery driver. That was his last job before retirement.

He has never smoked and would describe himself as a social drinker. He laughed as he said he can drink in a social environment or on his own. I asked him if his father was sitting in the chair next to him now and he could ask him three questions, what would he ask him. He thought for a second and said, “Why was he not in my life and why did he leave my mum when I was young?”. Of course, I immediately had empathy and understood exactly his pain that he had buried and plastered over with “It’s just one of those things”.

For the last seven years he has been having a health MOT at his local surgery and has been encouraging his friends to do the same. In January of this year he got the all clear from the surgery but then about three days later he got a call from Kings College hospital and they asked to see him. He went to the appointment and they told him that his result was not actually clear but he actually had prostate cancer.

I don’t know how that magnitude of a mistake can be made.

His PSA count was 4 compared to my 8.7 score. He went through the same battery of tests; the digital rectal examination, flow test, ultrasound, MRI scan and finally a biopsy. On the strength of those tests they told him that he would have to have the radical prostatectomy operation. However the night before the scheduled operation he got a call from the hospital to say they were going to cancel the operation as his cancer had spread.

This is the bit where I became confused.

I had stage two prostate cancer, which is where the cancer has developed, but had not spread outside of the prostate. Stage three is where the cancer has spread to the nearest nearby seminal vesicles which are the glands directly behind the prostate and help supply some of the fluid in semen. Stage four is where the cancer has now spread to other organs within the body.

Richards cancer has metastasized. That means it has broken out of the protective coating of the prostate and has spread to other organs. In his case it has spread to three areas in his body – his spine, hip and he cannot remember the other location. The doctors have said it’s in its early stages, so they have just completed a course of chemotherapy. There is a very big difference between stage three and stage four. To put it bluntly after stage three there is stage four. After stage four there is nothing.

No one has said anything to Richard about stages.

After each of the chemotherapy treatments he has to take eight injections in his stomach. He says he dreads this part as he is at the mercy of whichever nurse he gets. The needle should be applied at a forty five degree angle but some nurses just don’t care and have actually hurt him. The last time he actually had a trainee nurse and she couldn’t get the needle in properly and he screamed out in pain. She had to call on a colleague to get it in correctly.

He has to go back to the hospital on the 11th February 2019 to get the results of the chemotherapy.

He also has to have hormone injections every three months for the rest of his life. Other than that, he does not feel any different in his body. The side effects of this has been a decreased libido and being wiped out at 4pm in the afternoons, which he never experienced before. He has also cut his drinking habit right down and does not miss it.

When he told his mother she was worried and said she would pray for him, they are still close, very close. Unfortunately, his negative view of the church is strengthened by the fact that he has another brother that is a pastor in a church and knows about his condition but has not even contacted him to see how he is. He has two good friends and laughs as he says that he does not need any more.

I came out of this interview very much differently then I went into it and have very mixed feelings. I have heard some uncomfortable and some promising parallels to my own life and experience. Abandonment hits different people very differently but also much the same. He was DeeDee’s world until she was fifteen and then it fell apart.

Curiosity would get the better of me so fast forward a week and I decided to ask my dad how his relationship was with his dad. Something I had never asked before. I can still hear his joy and visualize his grinning face how he recalled how close he was to his dad, so very close, much closer than his other siblings. Not only that it lasted his entire life. Of course, he couldn’t see the delicious irony between him and me. I can honestly say I left it there and just brushed it off with a smile.

Just one of those things.

The promising part of all this being that DeeDee has five children but she has now broken the circle of dysfunction that existed for two generations before her in her family. I have also done the same.

For the first time this has created a minor chink of worry in my so far formidable mental prostate cancer armor and defenses. This is a man that did all the right things, textbook examples and yet prostate cancer still came and found him and clobbered him in the cruelest and unjust way possible.

I know I will shake it in a day or so and the old super confident old git Ellis will return.

In a few days time I will go for my second PSA test after my surgery. This needs to be another undetectable result. For the first time I have been thinking ‘what if it’s not….’

The super confident old git Ellis has to return.



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