Friday, 5 August 2011

My education as Chief Executive continues apace

At the risk of sounding a little clichéd, men sit at the heart of everything we do at The Prostate Cancer Charity. In the past few weeks I have had the privilege of working closely with a number of people who have been touched by this disease – and it struck me that, perhaps unsurprisingly, that they will be my best guides. Prostate cancer affects men, and their families and friends, in such a myriad of ways, but one thing seems to unite those who have been treated, the urge to make things better for others.

Denton Wilson and Ally Clarke are just two of the individuals behind the statistics, who have opened my eyes to the real impact of the disease on men, and the desire to galvanise others once it affected their lives. I met both men during the recent Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Week. In their own ways, they are each moving mountains to break down the remaining taboos and lingering fallacies that still surround the disease in the African Caribbean community – whether it be misunderstandings about how the disease is diagnosed to the effect it can have on masculinity.

I accompanied Denton as he addressed a crucial panel discussion on the potential impact of NHS reforms at the House of Commons with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer (APPG). Denton, a professional body-builder from Sheffield, was diagnosed with the disease in his early 40’s. A cancer diagnosis at any age is undoubtedly a huge shock, but for Denton, being diagnosed with what was at the time, a mysterious disease at an exceptionally young age – his shock was confounded. Following treatment, he has now confronted his cancer, as well as the barriers which surround it in his community, with an awe-inspiring determination (which led to a recent profile piece on Channel 4’s Five Minute Wonders – series of short films profiling charity volunteers). At the discussion Denton asked the panel what the Government was doing above and beyond its general awareness work to let African Caribbean men know about their increased risk of prostate cancer, which stands at three times that of white men. I was struck with how important it was for them to hear from someone with such conviction and personal passion, who was unafraid to speak out despite the assumptions of his community – rather than from the ‘official face' of the Charity

I then spoke at the Friends of the Caribbean event organised in the Charity’s honour in Milton Keynes, by the group’s Chairman Ally Clarke, who himself is living with prostate cancer. Ally is determined to get the message out there and he had a captive audience of several hundred people as he told his story, and urged his fellow African Caribbean men to see beyond the myths and overcome their fears about visiting a GP. It was a humbling sight to see so many people come together to help bring about a change in how the disease is regarded in their community.

The week, which was also supported by David Lammy and Chuka Umunna MPs, showed me how important it is for us to continue to work directly with the African Caribbean community, and just how far we have come, through the pioneering work of individuals, in encouraging people to dispel any myths around prostate cancer. It is my hope that in the months and years to come, we are able to continue to challenge the preconceptions about this disease in the community, so that many more men feel able to stand up, fight the misconceptions and show the real face of men with prostate cancer.

Also a final thought I just wanted to highlight an excellent blog I have come across by retired actress turned health buff, Judith Potts. If you do have some spare time it is well worth a read.

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