15 Aug 2013

We spoke to members of the Men Down Under support group in Barnet about what it was like to be involved in our small screen twist on their support group meeting.

Photo of Cherry Lodge prostate cancer support group"I remember receiving a call late last year from Prostate Cancer UK, saying they wanted to make a film about a support group. But we didn't really know what was happening and there was a fair amount of confusion!"

For Fiona Kiddle, nurse specialist and co-founder of the group, this was the call that that led to some unusual guests arriving at their next meeting.

The Men Down Under support group is held every six weeks. "It's primarily for men with incontinence and erectile dysfunction but it's not just about that." Fiona told us. "We have a range of guest speakers, we talk about interesting articles we've read, treatment options and everyone is very supportive of each other. The men can talk at ease and don't feel rushed."

For two scriptwriters working with Prostate Cancer UK, this was exactly the kind of inside experience they were looking for when they turned up for the group's meeting last November. However, if they thought they would just be observing and taking notes, they were mistaken!

Support group member Bob Turner recalls, "They thought they'd just be a fly on the wall but we're a friendly bunch and we didn't want them to sit quietly!"

"I think they thought it'd be like an AA meeting where everyone stands up and introduces themselves - but it's not. There can be quite a lot of black humour and we just chat and have conversations."

But the scriptwriters soon settled in, asking the group members a number of questions. Bob remembers, "They joined in very easily and wanted to know how we became aware of prostate cancer, how we were diagnosed and our treatment and after care."

Six months later the group received another call, this time inviting them to the press screening of Father's Day, now a finished film starring Ray Winstone, and to be interviewed by ITV. "It was very exciting" Bob enthused. "Prostate cancer is such a big deal, so to bring it to the public in this way was fantastic."

So what did the group think of the film?

"It was really well made," Bob told us. "It was quite dark in tone and content but I think that's right, you have to drive home the point. Lots of men find it hard to get through. They put on an enormous front. But the message the film says, and we say, is you can pick up your life after prostate cancer."

Both Bob and Fiona found themselves making comparisons between Men Down Under members and the characters in the film.  "The actors didn't match exactly," said Fiona "but there's a mix of them there, both in quotes and personality. The one which was spot on was Cyril Nri who captured Joe from the group brilliantly. When the two of them met at the press launch there was this big hug and all this talk of 'I'm you and you're me' and Joe was really made up afterwards."

Bob added, "The characters were really nice and reflected the diversity in the group. Cancer isn't selective; it doesn't target by class or personality."

For Bob one of the most authentic parts of the film was something very subtle. "When Tamzin (Outhwaite) brought in a cake, I know it's a really small detail but that's exactly what we do each meeting."

But being in a support group is about more than just cake. Fiona points out, "The film shows that prostate cancer doesn't end after treatment. You may have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life, so you need to have the opportunity to express yourself and get support."

One of the aims of the film was to get people talking and it's one both Bob and Fiona definitely agree with. "Men can be shy so hopefully this motivates them to speak to their doctor" Bob said.

Fiona added "I hope it shows people there is support available, they just need to look for it."

Being involved with the support group is something Fiona's very proud of. "For me it's a privilege to be a part of it. It's difficult for people to discuss intimate and private matters, but everyone is so supportive and respectful of each other and we really do have a lot of fun."

But she left it to Bob to echo the sentiment of Ray Winstone's character, near the end of Father's Day. "Sometimes you think you're the only person dealing with something and a support group gives you that comfort in knowing you're not alone. They're like a second family to me."

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