After being estranged for five years, Brian White reluctantly met with his dad at a party and learnt of a family history of prostate cancer for the first time. The revelation went on to save the 42-year-old's life and helped him rebuild a relationship with his father.

16 Jun 2016

I hadn’t seen dad in five years. It was my niece’s 16th birthday and she’d organised it herself, sneakily inviting him to it. He and my mum divorced 34 years ago and we don’t have a brilliant father-son relationship. My niece just wanted us to get together and have all her family around.

At the party, we managed to talk and I told him I’d been having some prostate problems. He said off the top of his head: “Oh, that’s probably prostate cancer – like what I’ve got”. It was a bit of a shock. Even though we don’t talk, he’s still my dad and I still love him. I didn’t know what to say. And then he told me my Uncle Paul had prostate cancer too.

By sheer coincidence, I had an appointment booked with my consultant the following Friday. I’d had problems with my bladder and pain in my pelvis since 2010 but always thought I had prostatitis. My doctor had agreed. But by early 2015, I was feeling really ill and a different GP referred me to have tests. I had a PSA test, a DRE, MRI and cystoscopy, which found no significant problems.

I got a call from my GP on holiday asking me to come in. You just know it’s not going to be good news

But after my niece’s birthday, I told the consultant urologist about my dad and uncle having prostate cancer, so he recommended I get a biopsy. A week afterwards, I got a call on holiday asking me to come in. You just know it’s not going to be good news. In your deepest heart you’re thinking, ‘Why would they ring me to come in?’ When I did, it was the ‘unfortunately conversation’: “Unfortunately Mr White you have prostate cancer”.

I kind of expected it but still, what do you do now? How bad is it? What do I tell my family? What do I tell work? Am I gonna die?

I didn’t tell my dad about it. I just didn’t want to engage with him. He doesn’t do emotions but the first time I saw him after I’d had surgery, I could see he was starting to cry and he had to leave. I think it made him realise he’s been a bit of an arse and should have played more of a part in my life because he nearly lost me.

Ever since then we’re very close. We’ll never be the classic father and son – we’re too old and too much water has gone under the bridge. But the cancer has brought us together, closer than in 40-odd years. It’s also made him see his own mortality, so he’ll ring me. He wants to know I’m alright – in his own peculiar fashion!

For my dad, an illness is a weakness. Even if you’re dying, you can only talk to medical professionals

I’ve tried to find out his prognosis but I can’t get it out of him and neither can his wife. Despite our new bond, I can’t change the bloke he is. For my dad, an illness is a weakness. Even if you’re dying, you can only talk to medical professionals. Talking to his wife is letting her down – he’s the dominant one. It’s similar with his children: he doesn’t want to burden me because I’m ill.

It’s a very clichéd thing to say, but I feel like I’ve had a narrow escape. I look back on that conversation with my dad and it was sheer bloody luck. I wasn’t going to go to the party, and it was only my fiancée telling me to suck it up and go that made me. It was like getting a winning lottery ticket that I found out my father and uncle had prostate cancer when I did. The doctor was going to send me away and get me to come back every six months. In the words of my oncologist: “If we’d have sent you away, we’d have been dealing with metastatic prostate cancer”.

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