Over 300,000 men are living with prostate cancer in the UK. In the build up to his Men United march – ten walking marathons in ten days – Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling met Boro fan Robin Millman, for whom prostate cancer has had a big impact on him and his family.
Jeff spoke to Robin about his experience.
Robin, can you remember the day you were diagnosed with prostate cancer? What was it like?
Well it was pretty devastating because I really didn’t think there was any chance whatsoever that I was going to end up with cancer. I went along to the clinic, I went into reception and the receptionist said to me, “is your wife with you?” I thought what a silly question. Of course she’s not. She’s at home. So then I went in, saw the consultant. He said, “You realise we’re talking prostate cancer here?” and from that point in time my mind went, as happens with many men. You’ve only got to hear that word, cancer, and you think ‘oh dear that’s it’. So I remember nothing of driving home.
Why did you go to the doctor in the first place?
I’d got a rising PSA, you know? This blood test that you have. I’d been having that every couple of years because the company I worked with gave me a medical. The very first time it was done it the score was six, and I went back and it was eight, and then ten, and then twelve. When it got to fourteen my GP reluctantly agreed that he would send me off for some tests, which was pretty extreme, even in those days.
And how has it affected your life since?
Well to begin with of course you worry about it. You think this is the end, and obviously it worried my family. I’ve got two boys and two girls. It worried them and it worried my wife. You end up with all the anxiety that comes with such a diagnosis and then the initial treatment. Over the years I’ve really learned to live with it – it’s come back three times. It keeps hitting me on the nose and I keep getting back up. But there are always consequences of prostate cancer treatment and things like impotence and incontinence are a very regular occurrence from prostate cancer treatment.
Do you think the consequences of treatments, like incontinence and impotence, are issues men are afraid to talk about in relation to prostate cancer?
Absolutely. They’re also frightened of the diagnosis stage because there’s not only the PSA blood test, there’s this digital rectal examination (DRE). I’ve met people who’ve said, “I will never ever go to the doctor's and have that.” Although I realise not everyone has a DRE when they are discussing prostate cancer with their doctor.
I’m a great believer in trying to raise awareness of the disease and encourage more men early on to see the doctor.
We’re men. We don’t want to go to the doctor's, do we? You know what it’s like.
Oh absolutely. Men always think of the reasons why they shouldn’t go, and women are thinking of the one reason why they should.
And this darn thing keeps coming back, doesn’t it?
Yes, absolutely. And if it is coming back again then this will be the fourth time that somebody’s said to me, “I’m sorry. You’ve got prostate cancer.”
Would going to the doctor sooner have helped your situation?
I was just about okay as the cancer was still within the prostate at the time, and as you know that’s a very important watershed in prostate cancer treatment. Once it gets outside the prostate, it spreads to lymph glands, it spreads to bone, and it may spread to other soft tissues. Then it is much more difficult to treat.
With your experience, do you find yourself encouraging friends and family to go and see the doctor themselves if they’re concerned?
I’ve got two brothers, both older than me. After I’d been diagnosed they went to the doctor, and lo and behold they turned out to have prostate cancer as well. So all three of us have got prostate cancer. It’s important for us and our sons, because as you will know, there is an increased risk if it’s hereditary.
As well as going to the doctor's, how has Prostate Cancer UK helped you?
Well, one of the earliest things I did was contact Prostate Cancer UK’s Specialist Nurses. I got some very good information about potential treatments. And I’ve used them many times since along the way. I’m a great supporter of the Specialist Nurses.
It’s interesting that you mention their Specialist Nurses - tell me about your work with the charity to help get the message out there.
I volunteer my time to concentrate on raising awareness of the disease. So I give a presentation to men’s groups, golf clubs, and businesses. I do information stands in places like Marks and Spencer or B&Q too. I’m a great believer in trying to raise awareness of the disease and encourage more men early on to see the doctor.
And make more men aware, I guess, that this is something that can be beaten. That it’s not always a death sentence.
Yes, the earlier you catch it, then the less likely it is to be a death sentence.
Jeff Stelling’s Men United March has already raised £50,000. Money raised by our supporters helps us make the difference to the 330,000 men and their families living with prostate cancer.
£50,000 could support our Specialist Nurses to speak to a thousand men like Robin about any concerns they have about prostate cancer. Our Helpline is the only one of its kind in the UK and completely free to anyone affected by the disease. You can support it too by supporting Jeff Stelling’s Men United March.
While Leicester City's Jamie Vardy was scoring for England against Germany last March, it was a lesser-known James Vardy whose name was on the lips of Jeff Stelling and his Sky Sports colleagues, as he joined them on the Men United March. He tells us why he's walking with Jeff again this year, how his involvement led him to get his own health checked, and the perils of errant Twitter followers every time Jamie Vardy scores.