Whether it's the local library or a prison block, our passionate volunteers go to extraordinary lengths to raise awareness of prostate cancer in their communities. Here, four of them describe the challenges and rewards of giving a talk in more unusual circumstances.

26 Oct 2016

Soldiers at Maidstone Army barracks

Terry Potter

Terry Potter was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago and is now cancer-free after having a prostatectomy in 2015. He's done presentations about the disease all over the South East in the past 18 months.

"I’ve given talks in a variety of places, from buildings sites and railways depots to big corporate head offices. So when I was asked if I could run an information stand at a health event in Maidstone Barracks, it didn’t really phase me. I’m pretty confident doing this sort of thing now, and my background in sales and marketing means I’m used to being a bit gobby!

"At the time I visited, the barracks was home to a Gurkha regiment, so it was a bit of a different crowd to the usual British squaddies. The event was mandatory for the soldiers to attend and there were other charities and organisations representing a wide range of health issues.

"We spoke to around 100 men, ranging from 18-year-olds to those in their 50s nearing retirement. Coming from a poor country like Nepal with limited access to healthcare, understandably most of the lads had little awareness about cancer, let alone prostate cancer. But once I told them that one-in-eight men will suffer with the disease, they were more than willing to stop and listen to what I had to say.

The majority of soldiers were pretty young and likely felt prostate cancer wasn’t something they needed to worry about

"The majority of these soldiers were pretty young and likely felt prostate cancer wasn’t something they needed to worry about. In fact, they were more interested in the sexual health stand next door to us! But I reminded them that they could be the messenger and pass the information on to their Dad or older family members and friends.

"The more we can get people talking about prostate cancer the better. It’s all about giving people the information early on so they know the signs to spot in the future and can hopefully catch the disease before it gets too serious.

"Most of the soldiers I spoke to that day were preparing to go to Afghanistan as part of the peace-keeping mission there. If just one of the guys we spoke to that day spots the signs for prostate cancer earlier than they might have otherwise, it makes what I do all worthwhile."

Staff and inmates at Teesside Prison

Robin Millman

Since his diagnosis in 1999, Robin Millman has undergone three rounds of radical treatment and has recently started a course of hormone therapy after the cancer returned. He has volunteered for Prostate Cancer UK for many years.

"I’m happy to say I haven’t visited a prison before, so it was certainly unusual to recently find myself entering Teesside Prison, home to 1,200 male inmates.

"I was there to speak to the 400 or so prison officers about prostate cancer at a health awareness event. I asked whether any of the prisoners would be coming and the prison officer laughed. 'Definitely not!' he said. 'There is no way we could control the numbers.'

"It was a shame but it was a good group of people to reach, anyway, as the majority of the male staff members were in the older age bracket and so more likely to engage with our information.

"There were a good number of women working at the prison, too, which is always helpful. Many men tend to actively try not to listen or engage – what I term the 'ostrich head' approach. Whereas women are more likely to listen and take the information back to the men in their lives.      

Security restrictions meant I wasn’t able to take my laptop into the prison, which contains my presentation, but I have a few props which came in useful

"Security restrictions meant I wasn’t able to take my laptop into the prison, which contains my presentation so it had to be an information stand. I wasn’t too worried as I have a few props that I use which came in useful.

"A few years ago, I discovered a little-known local public health library and unearthed some latex prostate models, which I now take along to talks and information days. They get people involved and it is very useful to be able to demonstrate what I am talking about right in front of people.  

"I chatted with the prison doctor, who attended the event. He said unfortunately, other medical issues amongst the inmates left little time for him to promote the health awareness and prevention work around prostate cancer.

"I did manage to give a couple of boxes of our 'Know your Prostate' z-cards to the prison librarian, who said she would make sure they were displayed in the library. I do hope some of our messages reach those behind bars and that the inmates, as well as the staff, are all made more aware of what to look out for when it comes to prostate cancer."

Severely deaf people in South London

Bill Petch

After undergoing a radical prostatectomy, six weeks of radiotherapy and two years of hormone treatment, Bill Petch is now cancer-free and has been volunteering with Prostate Cancer UK for six years.

"My speciality seems to be speaking to large groups of construction workers. This might have something to do with the fact I have a congenital dislike of PowerPoint presentations, tending to rely solely on my oratory skills and a fair bit of banter. 

"So I was delighted when I was asked to speak to a small local support group for people who are severely or profoundly deaf at a South London library, but realised this might be the time when the PowerPoint presentation could be useful.

"The organiser advised I wouldn’t need to make any modifications to my usual talk, but I was still a little apprehensive that there might be difficulties communicating between us all. In fact, I was amazed at how fast the two sign-language interpreters could translate and I only needed to slow down marginally.

It certainly opened my eyes to a different side of health and disability, which is why I get so much out of doing these talks

"There were more questions than usual at the end, like whether there are any dietary changes that can be made to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. This may well be in part due to the difficulties many people who are deaf and hard of hearing face accessing health services.

"The group told me the main problem was the shortage of sign-language interpreters working within the NHS, which makes it very difficult for them when it comes to attending GP or hospital appointments. All too often they are left unable to properly engage or discuss the necessary medical issues.

"It certainly opened my eyes to a different side of health and disability which I wasn’t previously aware of and that is why I get so much out of doing these talks. I have since fired off a couple of letters to various people within the local NHS Trust reminding them of the importance of supporting people with hearing loss within our health services. I've also spoken to Prostate Cancer UK about the communication support we can provide to people.

"We need to make sure that the vital information our Specialist Nurses provide is accessible to everyone, and I hope we continue to make progress in achieving that aim."

Non-English-speaking Gurkhas in Aldershot

Kevin Hopgood

Kevin Hopgood was diagnosed with prostate cancer following an annual workplace medical in 2009 and is now all clear. He started doing awareness talks shortly after retirement to give something back.

"There's a large army base near to where I live in Aldershot, and a lot of Gurkha soldiers who were once based there have settled in the area. A friend of mine volunteers at a support group for former Gurkhas and their wives and suggested I come along to one of their meetings.

"Prior to my talk, it was decided that only male members of the group would attend, which seemed to be a cultural preference. As I entered the Mormon Church where the group meets, I was greeted by a group of very proper, respectful and polite older men who bow to greet one another. It all seemed in sharp contrast to the reputation Gurkhas hold as some of the most fearsome fighters on the battlefield.

"The majority of my Nepalese audience spoke limited English, so I spoke through an interpreter who had familiarised themselves with my presentation beforehand. In my former career in International Development, I often had to present to audiences in different countries through interpreters, so I was quite familiar with the format.

The key things to avoid are the use of any jargon or abbreviations that wouldn’t be understood

"The key things to avoid are the use of any jargon or abbreviations that wouldn’t be understood. So for example, we often talk about PSA scores. So in this context, I talked about 'a simple blood test to detect cancer', which is much easier to translate and be understood by the audience.    

"There were quite a few questions following the talk and all the leaflets and literature were taken away, which is a good sign. I was also pleased to subsequently receive an invitation from one gentlemen in the audience to talk to a similar support group in Camberley, which I recently did.

"Reaching out to these men enables me to play a small part in spreading the message about the disease. Sometimes it feels like we are only scratching the surface – I think so far we have reached around 350,000 men through the awareness talk programme. This is a drop in the ocean when you consider around 47,000 people are diagnosed each year.

"Yet for me, it’s important to remember that for each person we speak to, who knows how many more people they will pass that message on to?"

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