Blogger Nick Wright meets volunteer Paul Foulkes and discovers how handing out prostate information led to a double act with fellow volunteer Denton Wilson.
How does a friendship start? Common interests? Finding the same things funny? Or, to get all cringey, did you just click? Some of our friendships have lasted so long that we forget how they even started. But how many of us make new friends later in life?
Paul Foulkes recently made a friendship which has made a massive difference to him. Paul has advanced prostate cancer that has spread to his bones, lymph nodes and lungs. “My prognosis is pretty bleak now,” he told me.
But this hasn’t stopped him from wanting to help others. That’s why he’s part of Men United and why he trained to speak to others about knowing their risk of prostate cancer. Late last year Paul hosted one of our information stands in Sheffield and met fellow volunteer, Denton Wilson. Denton had been diagnosed with prostate cancer at 42, not long after he lost his father from the disease. Now in his late 50s, Denton is a long time member of Men United.
Paul describes himself as “an old-fashioned 62-year-old white male with quite a conservative outlook on life”. So when he encountered Denton, a younger guy with dreadlocks, he had no idea what to expect. “But we hit it off immediately,” he said. “We’re completely different people but Denton’s naturally friendly and compassionate. I think I am too so we were instantly singing from the same hymn sheet.”
That day, Paul and Denton were there to hand out prostate information materials and speak to people who might be worried about prostate problems. “At first I had some trepidation about my knowledge,” he said, “whether I’d say the right thing or how far I should tell my own story. But after a while you see that people rely on you and there’s so much gratitude.”
The event went brilliantly. “The atmosphere was terrific and I enjoyed every minute. We heard some heart-touching stories, were able to encourage people to go to the doctors, and reassure people who were fearful and anxious about their own condition. Because of our own situation we could also sympathise with those who had prostate cancer, and provide comfort for those whose hearts were aching for loved ones. There were tears, some difficult questions, lots of smiles, lots of hugs from strangers but also lots of laughter.”
For Paul, the reason it went so well was down to his partnership with Denton. “We just worked together like Morecambe and Wise, got laughs off each other. Our two experiences and the way we could share stories just worked.”
It began the start of their friendship and Paul jokes that he’s also got know Denton “with his prostate cap off” now. “Denton and his partner Nina came over for lunch with me and my wife. We had a really good chat over 2-3 hours, talking about their huskies and life in general. There was a lot of laughter and that was great both for me and my wife. She is my absolute hero. She ignores the life alone that she faces, and doesn't concern herself with how she will manage. But she is worried, anxious and very, very sad because of my condition. It was good to have that quality time together.”
And the double act didn’t end at that first event. Paul and Denton teamed up again, this time at an African Caribbean church in Sheffield. “I volunteered to speak to a group at church but it was a long time since I’d done anything like this. I was also concerned about the possibility of cultural and language barriers. So Denton came along with me and offered me guidance. He mentored me and it was just really good to have him there.”
Paul added: “I’m not good at making friends. I’m just not good socially. When I volunteered I never went along to make friends, it just developed that way. It’s great having somebody who cares and knows what it’s like. Sometimes he might get in touch to see how I am and I’ll say it’s not a good day; I’m feeling pretty sick and down. He’ll say I’m sorry to hear that and I’ll be praying for you. It’s just nice to know that he knows what I’m going through.”
Paul then said something that took my breath away. “I don’t want to die of prostate cancer but my prognosis is not very positive. If my experiences can save two or three other men – dads, husbands – then it’s made my suffering worthwhile.”
And he summed up why so many men with prostate cancer want to help others. “The important thing is, if something Denton and I said made someone go to the doctors, and it meant someone could have their friend or partner for another 20 years, then I’ve done a good thing.”
And Paul and Denton keep on doing good things, day by day. After manning the Information Stand in Sheffield he said: “The pain in in my lymph nodes was not pleasant, I was a little shaky and my rib cage felt like I’d been in a kick-boxing tournament. But would I do it again? Without hesitation. I would encourage anyone to have a go, especially if you can be supported by someone like Denton.”
Men United. Keeping friendships alive.