I decided while I am still job-hunting, that I would throw myself into as many Prostate Cancer talks as I could during the day. Those that have been reading this blog long enough know that they are not always as straightforward as they can be. For some odd reason, old Ellis can be a magnet to the unusual.
Thou shalt have foursomes and thou shalt get a second opinion
I have said before that I am not a fan of talking with another prostate cancer survivor about the same procedure. I just don’t see the point in two men talking about the same thing. Well, this talk was going to be something very different. There were going to be four of us talking about three very different aspects of prostate problems and the viewpoint of a supportive spouse. One guy would be talking about his enlarged prostate condition, another would be talking about having radiotherapy and hormone treatment, I would be talking about radical surgery and the wife of the guy with the enlarged prostate would be talking about supporting her husband.
I thought this was a fantastic concept and had been looking forward to it for months.
We had about twenty-five people in the audience, maybe ten guys and fifteen women. It was in a church that was having a men’s ministry meeting.
Call me a cynic, but that’s exactly the group that should have been there and of course, they never materialised.
One of the guys had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and decided on the radiotherapy and hormone treatment. He is clear at the moment and now he is an active speaker on the topic. I had hoped to get the detail about what the treatment does and what he went through so I could share first hand with anyone if I needed to but we didn’t get that level of detail of the effects that he went through.
The guy with the enlarged prostate started with a few facts and figures and then went into his story. He had been having some urinary flow problems and eventually it was confirmed that he had an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer. He is only the second guy that I know that has had any symptoms. Although it was not widespread within the prostate, the doctors recommended that he have radical surgery to have it removed.
They decided to get a second opinion from another hospital.
Another doctor looked at his results and initially wondered why he had come to see him. The level of prostate cancer was so small in his opinion, surgery was not required and instead, they decided that they would put him under Active Surveillance and medication for the enlarged prostate. Active Surveillance is where the patient’s PSA is tested quarterly to determine if and how fast it is spreading. If there is no change the number of tests may reduce but they will not take any further action until the PSA level becomes a concern. His wife would go on to say how she was initially afraid, how important it was getting a second opinion and how she supported him through the worse parts.
I went through a couple of prostate cancer statistics which they didn’t know and shocked them. In between telling them about my personal story, I told them how black and white groups are very different. White groups are easy they listen, ask questions and go and get tested. Male black groups, listen, ask fewer questions and tend to do nothing. I told them about the difficulty with talking to church groups (they just want to stick it in with a health day) and I told them even when men are being proactive with their health the problems that they may encounter.
The most moving question of the day came from a woman whose father will not engage with her or other members of her family on his medical problems, which they knew were prostate related. She wanted to know if we had any ideas of how she could engage with him. I mentioned the parallels of her story that I had with my father. I said that I went direct to the doctor and once I had correctly identified myself and told him what I knew and suspected he was happy to fill in the blanks. From what I know America is stricter than over here with regards to patient/doctor confidentiality, but they may either correct what you already know or fill in the blanks. She had nothing to lose. We also suggested that she try and find out either by asking directly or surreptitiously what medication he is on and try to reverse engineer what he could be suffering from. She appreciated our brainstorming and would try again with her father.
Two weeks later and the host informed me that the woman, with the father who wouldn’t talk, has happily reported that because of the presentation she had a better understanding of how she should tackle talking to her father and she has now successfully opened a dialogue with him. He has an enlarged prostate. The host would also tell us of the messages that she received about how powerful the presentation was. She would also invite us to all come back in a month’s time and give another presentation straight after the main church service.
“We are going to tell them food will be on offer so that should encourage them to stay”
Indeed, it will. Though I’m not sure if the dessert, consisting of three presenters, will be as palatable.
We made a difference. All we could ask for.
Thou shalt not move venue and thou shalt not murder
The normal correspondence to this African event was quite straightforward and then just days before the event, an email about a big change of venue was announced. It had moved from central to darkest Kent. Think of Sherlock Holmes and ‘The Hound of Baskervilles’ type of creepy, winding, narrow roads with no mains lighting and you are not far off. Initially, I was not going to do it because of the change but I convinced myself that us Prostrate Cancer UK speakers are made of sterner stuff so off I went cursing the journey all the way and convinced I was going to get t-boned by some rabid deer or even better still some species of animal that David Attenborough had not yet made a program on.
I got there in one piece. The car park was like the last hotel in the apocalypse so I didn’t hang around in the car to relax like I normally would do after a long journey. I gave my name to reception and made my way to the function room. The host was not about and strangely nor was the bulk of the guests. I looked at my watch and by now it should have been at least half full but there were only a couple of us rattling around in there. What did I care, I had a seat and I was going to be fed.
I sat down for about half an hour and the room had maybe twenty-five people from the sixty table places available. The host had found me and introduced herself. We were now well into the official start time so it was unlikely many more guests were going to take the Baskervilles trail and join us. They told me I would be on in about half an hour. So, going through my cue cards for the last time I was ready.
I took center stage and just ignored the mass of empty chairs as I started my presentation, I have had much worse. I have been a guest/photographer at enough African events to know there is one strange thing that happens often at these gatherings. Whether it’s the host’s table or if there is a local dignitary some guests just have to come in and make a point of going around that particular table greeting and having a quick chat with everyone on that particular table. Completely oblivious as to what’s going on, they will do this before finding their own seat. It does not matter if it’s a birthday party, funeral or wedding.
Hmmm, not on my watch.
A woman came in and started to do the rounds on what was the top table. A half courtesy here, a smile there, oh I love your hair here and wow I have not seen you for so long there. Had she been quick and quiet about it I might have ignored it. She failed miserably on both counts. I said on the microphone that I would wait for this woman to finish her greetings. The seated guests soon shut her down. Her friend who was just a few feet behind her either didn’t care or was even more oblivious because she started to do exactly the same thing that her friend had just done before her. Again, I said I would wait for the woman to finish her greetings. She was shut down even quicker and I smiled and continued.
Talk completed and questions answered and I had distributed the booklets that I had. One of the questions was, “Why did you bother to give us this talk? You know none of us are not going anywhere to be tested.”
Well, it wasn’t really but I think you get my drift.
Once I had been fed and watered I was keen to get back onto the Baskervilles trail before the mist set in permanently and sinister things started to emerge from it. The host was not at her table, so I went outside to try and find her and say goodbye. Towards the back of the hotel in the corridor, I could hear a commotion. Like anyone working hard towards their scouts ‘Busybody’ badge, I felt it only polite, no I was duty-bound, to go and investigate.
Let me draw the picture for you.
The host is slowly losing her nut both physically and verbally. She is scattering, mixing up and throwing a number of photographs that are on the top of a table. A guy with a camera around his neck is pleading with her to calm down (because it was attracting a crowd). There is a woman sitting at the table who is looking bemused, frightened and embarrassed in equal measure.
“You tell me you were here to support me and then you do this? Just get your stuff out. Get out.” The host shouted in between her fit.
“Just get out, get out!”
“OK, Ok I’m going there is no need for you to do this” stuttered the hapless guy with the camera.
Then it dawned on me as I stood there smiling broadly. Another staple of African events is the event photographer. They go around either at the tables or take the woman or couple to a backdrop, take their picture and instantly print it off for a price. The trick is you usually don’t bother to show the guy the photograph (he is not the slightest bit interested – it’s going to cost him money) but you show the woman and tell her how beautiful she looks. Of course, this beauty may or may not depend on if you have just been released from prison or if the rent is due but hey. Regardless, once she is sold the guy has to purchase the picture. Some of these event photographers are guests, some of them are invited by the host and the other type just happens to hear about an event from somewhere on the grapevine. You know like an entrepreneurial leech popping its head out of the water and reading on a flyer that a beach party is taking part in the river next week.
My man was a photographer selling photographs, the lady sitting was one of his customers and he had made the greedy mistake of not sharing or donating his photographic booty with the host.
After a minute or so of ‘host tsunami’, the host saw me standing there and she switched instantly. Almost like you would see in a cartoon. She thanked me for an informative speech and asked me if I had eaten properly. I had indeed I remarked. I didn’t tell her that I certainly would not be putting in an expenses claim as this was payment enough. The chastised photographer was now feeling the heat of the growing crowd and hurriedly began to pack up his kit. It probably didn’t help there was a Prostate Cancer UK speaker grinning broadly, mentally waging his finger and was wondering if he could pull up a comfy chair and get some popcorn.
His customer had long scuttled away somewhere in the storm. The poor guy was still getting it and I began to actually feel sorry for him. Had he resisted or put up an argument I’m sure I would have got a call later from Detective Smith from the Homicide squad at Scotland Yard for a witness statement because my girl was just warming up.
Just another day at the office.