In May 2013, Fitz Lawson, a youth support worker from Milton Keynes, had a huge shock when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 54. Having lost his father to the disease and with two grown up sons, Fitz understands the importance of research in helping to find out why Black men are more at risk of prostate cancer. He explains what he’s doing to get more Black men involved in research to stop the disease ‘wreaking havoc’ in the community.
“I’m originally from Jamaica so when I moved to the UK in 1992, I left lots of family behind including my mother and my father, who sadly died of prostate cancer in 2006.
"When he was diagnosed, I wanted to help but I was only able to go back occasionally so it had to be from a distance. I helped financially and I did a lot of research about prostate cancer.
“That was when I learned that Black men are more likely to get prostate cancer and I also learned that having a family history of prostate cancer puts you at a greater risk.
"But despite this, when I was diagnosed aged 54, it came as a shock to hear I had prostate cancer so young. I found it incredibly difficult to come to terms with. I’d been trying to take the precautions I could – to live a healthy lifestyle and take exercise. I felt prostate cancer would put things in my life on hold. But I’m a person of faith and a cup half-full person, so I said, look man, physically I’m in pretty good shape so if anyone’s got a chance of making a dent in this then I’m the one.
“The experts thought the cancer was confined in the prostate, so in September last year I had surgery to remove my prostate at Guys Hospital in London. I was aware of the various treatment options available to me because I’d done my reading when Dad was diagnosed.
“Unfortunately after surgery my PSA levels were still high and it seemed the cancer had spread. So I started hormone therapy, which is helping to keep it at bay. I’ve had a few side effects from that, hot flushes and a bit of weight gain, but I can still do most things as normal and I’ve got lots of energy.
I’ve been very open with my friends...I’m not afraid to talk about the intimate side of prostate cancer.
“The urology team at Guys gave detailed presentations on the side effects of surgery and paid particular attention to the intimate side of things (how it can affect your sex life) so that husbands and wives understood exactly what the situation might be afterwards. And they gave us all the help that was necessary post surgery. We were also given names of other men we could call upon for support and that proved very helpful.
“I was very open with family when I was diagnosed. My wife was more worried than I was but she was very supportive and was with me every step of the way. My sons were also very concerned, but they have been on the journey with me too. And now they’re OK about it because it’s not like I’m poorly. I’m out and about. I’m living with it.
“I’ve been very open with my friends too and I’m not afraid to talk about the intimate side of prostate cancer. I always broach that first, because people are afraid to ask certain questions, but that’s the biggest one for guys isn’t it?
“Since my diagnosis I’ve started trying to raise awareness of prostate cancer in the Black community. I deliver talks to spread the word about the increased risk and encourage Black men to speak to their doctor about the disease.
“I often start my talks with a poem to break the ice and relax people. I write poetry and I’ve written quite a few about my prostate cancer journey. I have one I perform like a town crier, like Brian Blessed: “Shout it out, shout it out, shout it out! Man, get yourself checked out!”
“I’ve also recently joined up as a Prostate Cancer UK Research Champion, because while we know Black men are at much greater risk, we still don’t know why. And we won’t be able to find the answers the community so desperately needs unless we can get more Black guys to take part in research. So I talk about what research is like. I try to dispel the myths and I explain how Black men can get involved and help themselves, their sons and their whole community, because prostate cancer ends up involving the entire family.
“My sons are 27 and 24 and with our family history and Black heritage they’re right in the firing line. As a youth worker and a foster father too I know how important it is to invest in young people. My Mum taught me that. When I was growing up, our house was a sort of open house. She was always looking after other young people – whoever was in need didn’t have to plead. I developed a heart for this and I want to spread the word that this is not just about guys like me, it’s about generations to come.”