I was excited, I was rehearsed, and I was raring to go. This was my first live in person talk in nearly two years of Mr Pandemic reeking carnage. It was in the prestigious Mansion House in Central London to celebrate Prostate Cancer UK’s 25th birthday. It is the majestic official residence of the Mayor of London and we don’t talk about the ingenious way the building was funded way back in 1739.
Invited were the leaders and staff of Prostate Cancer UK along with their biggest clients and supporters. Prostate Cancer UK have hundreds of volunteers and yet they asked me to do this talk. No, they didn’t lose their telephone book either. This was my time. Now knowing me, what could possibly go wrong?
It started off with an email on the 7th September, from Prostate Cancer UK. Would I be interested in doing a talk at their 25th Anniversary event in October.
Would I like Beyoncé to tell me that she is tired of Jay Zee and I’m the only one??
There would be three speakers on the night. One talking about prostate cancer past, one on prostate cancer present and the third on prostate cancer future. I would be speaking about prostate cancer present, my speech needed to be 4 minutes in length and a brief would be sent out to me in the coming days.
I was gassed to say the least. Listen oldie if you don’t know what I mean by gassed, you need to get with it. What an honour.
I thought about the structure of what I wanted to say. How was I going to open? What were the key points I wanted to get across? What was I going to leave them to think over? All of this within a 4-minute window.
A couple of days later and I receive the briefing pack as promised. It had on it the event schedule for the night, what they would like us to do, logistics, background etc. Further down the pack were pictures of the trusties new and old. I had to do a double take but I actually saw one of my old managers from one of my previous jobs. Yes, I am being deliberately vague and here is the conundrum.
We say nothing 😊
The day before the talk and I had rehearsed the speech to death, I had it fine-tuned to 3 minutes and 40 seconds. I would start with a joke. Not too rude but something that was funny. I would then mention some facts and figures, a small snippet about my story and conclude with something memorable. Mansion House is a splendid place – if you know what you are looking for. Google informed me that I was at the correct location, but the signage stops there. After circling and walking up and down a couple of times I found the smallest of signs to tell me that this was the right place. Eventually I got into the place through more of a service entrance than the grand entrance you would expect for such an important building. I later found out that the building is not normally open to filthy commoners, sorry members of the public.
I was warmly greeted by the prostate cancer team and introduced to other members of staff and some of the guests. Many of the team that I knew before have sadly moved on. Prostate Cancer UK, like all other charities in the UK, have suffered tremendously with donations during Covid and have lost a number of staff that I knew very well and some of the teams have been re-organised.
I found out who my speaking colleagues would be. Professor Jonathan Waxman who would be talking on prostate cancer past and Professor Johann De Bono who would be talking about prostate cancer future. I would be the dodgy filling in the middle of this otherwise esteemed sandwich. I got talking to Professor Bono, who apart from being really nice and friendly is that kind of knowable guy you could easily listen to all day. He insisted on just being called Johann, which is a nice change from one memorable occasion I had a discussion with a titled gentleman. I was working in a department store and the gentleman in question was getting a package delivered to his address. I called him over but made the mistake of calling him ‘Mr’ instead of ‘Dr’.
“It’s Dr Rogers” he arrogantly corrected me.
I looked at him and thought that if you think the postman is going to toss your crappy, little package around any less because you are a ‘Dr’ you are mistaken. I smiled that ‘I should keep in my shop assistant lane as you are the esteemed Dr smile’. I completed his address and bid him farewell. Rest assured the title was changed to ‘Mr’ the second he was out of sight. I wanted to use the ‘toss’ word but caught myself. Anyway, going back on topic, I’m not sure how the topic came about but I was in a small group and the island of Guadeloupe was mentioned as having the highest incident of prostate cancer worldwide (nearly 2.5 times that of the UK), but I didn’t know why. Johann gave us the answer. For decades they used a pesticide called Chlordecone which is the cause of a devastating pollution problem. It is in the food and water table. You can read the story here.
Then it was my time to talk.
“I arrived early for my prostate exam, the dreaded digital rectal examination. I was nervous as you can imagine. The doctor was very welcoming, comforting and gentle in his mannerisms. I stripped down and hopped up to the table. The check took longer than usual, I had heard it normally only takes a few seconds, but he took nearly ten minutes. Afterwards he walked straight out. As he was walking out the nurse walked in. She looked me straight in the eye and whispered those words no man ever wants to hear. “Who was that?”
Only 2 people on the front row laughed. The rest was tumbleweeds, not content with just blowing by in the distance a couple of them smacked me in the chops for good measure. I had died horribly on stage. I soldiered on.
“1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some stage in their life. For black men this number jumps to 1 in 4.
It is the third biggest killer of men worldwide after heart disease and lung cancer.
When I joined prostate cancer UK as a speaker, it was estimated that prostate cancer would be the number 1 diagnosed cancer in the UK by 2030. Instead, it would be 2019 that prostate cancer would reach that terrible milestone.
My prostate cancer was only discovered because I wanted to have a health check because I was approaching 50. The locum doctor asked me if we should do a PSA test. I hummed and erred and eventually said yes, it was just another check box. Like the high majority of men, I never had any symptoms. I would later go on to have the radical surgery to remove my prostate.
Since then, I have made it a mission to talk to men, partially black men about prostate cancer. We as black men are the most afflicted, but the least engaged. I created a blog that has been viewed over 20 thousand times, where using humour, life experiences and people that I have met along the way, I talk about prostate cancer and its challenges. Just be careful tonight that you don’t do anything unexpectedly blog worthy as I am always on the lookout for new material.
I will leave you with one other sobering thought. By the time you leave the hall this evening another two men would have died of prostate cancer.
They were gracious and polite in their applause, I smiled as I walked off the podium, but the damage had been done. They could have slung the body bag over me and zipped it up. I even forgot to introduce Professor Johann de Bono. I did the rounds mingling with the staff and VIP’s. I was congratulated on my talk as I went about but it wasn’t until I go to the group that included the 2 people that laughed that I got my answer. They had heard it all being in the front row but as I delivered the punchline, I had moved slightly off the range of the crappy microphone so nobody else had heard it. I consoled myself by telling the rest of the group, that hadn’t heard the full joke and I threw in the slightly dodgier version which they laughed at even more but agreed with me that it might have been just a little too much.
Mic drop and goodbye Mansion House.