Nick Wright talks to Richard Auckland, who after being diagnosed with prostate cancer four years, wondered if he'd even make it to Christmas.
It's that famous line. It pops up at Christmas every few years, as Bob Geldof and a merry-go-round of the in-fashion faces of music sing it for a great cause. It’s an interesting lyric, as the whole idea of Christmas conjures up so many emotions linked to traditions. Beyond religion it could be cutting the turkey, watching the Queen’s speech or forcing down another Brussel sprout. But, for so many of us, it’s all about spending quality time with your friends and family.
Richard Auckland knows all too well that it’s Christmas time. When Richard was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago, at the age of 64, his first thought was: “Will I make it to Christmas?” He told me: “A week after I was diagnosed I went to Gloucester Cathedral. I went into the chapel for a chat and I just said how frightened I was. At that point, just being asked by someone: ‘Are you alright?’ made such a difference.”
As I spoke to Richard I could hear how much these words, and the support he received from his friends and family, gave him strength and inspiration. His relationship with his son became stronger than ever. “We became like best friends,” he told me, beaming. And the support group he attended (and is now chairman of – Cotswolds Prostate Cancer Support Group) gave him a huge lift. “Blokes shared their stories and that was so valuable. I was scared and I didn’t know what it was all about. The support group was my lifeline.”
But there was one of Richard’s friendships I had to find out more about.
Richard, Tony and children in the early 80s
Richard and Tony have been friends for over 50 years. They met at college in North Wales – both studying electronic engineering. They went on treks to Snowdonia, chatted up the local ladies in the dance halls and, by the sound of things, had their fair share of fun. Richard went into electronics in aircraft, Tony in real time computer systems. They both got married around the same time, Richard and his wife became godparents to Tony’s daughters and they both retired in the past decade.
When they meet now it’s like it’s always been – well almost. “We’re both technologists and interested in the next thing but we’re not similar in what we like. Dick’s always showing me his latest gadget,” Tony revealed. “Dick’s got his tablet but I’d much rather sit down with a real book.” The fact they laugh when I ask if Richard’s tried to convince Tony to buy one, tells me as much about their friendship as any words do.
Tony recalled discovering Richard had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. “I didn’t realise it happened to ordinary people like us. When it happens to a close friend, it means so much more – you take prostate cancer seriously. Until it comes close to home it’s never real. Dick made it real.”
Richard decided to have surgery but before he went under the knife, he and his wife decided to go to North Wales to join Tony and his wife sailing. “That was great – being with him and doing the things I normally do, like get soaked as I took his trailer into the sea. It’s the sort of natural things you do all the time and it was nice to do that before the operation. I wanted a bit of normality”.
And normality is what Tony helped Richard maintain. Tony said: “I remember Dick had this tree in the middle of the garden. He’d been worried about it. ”It’ll take the fence up!” he kept saying. So I removed it for him. An hour’s worth of energy and it was gone. But I’ve always thought, whatever simple kindness you can give your mate when he’s in trouble means so much.”
Richard said: “It was nice to have him there, I could talk about things that were worrying me. But we could also just turn things over and share jokes. He was just ‘there’, like a brother.”
Four years on from his diagnosis and Christmas has a different feel for Richard. That’s why I was fortunate enough to speak to him. He’d volunteered to star in a photo shoot for our Christmas appeal – a direct mailing to thousands of homes across the UK. I told him we’d like to get a shot of him cutting the turkey, that classic Christmas act.
On the week of that photo shoot Richard got the all-clear. So this Christmas he can look forward to cutting the turkey with family and friends like Tony, for real. “It was like getting a certificate at the end of an exam,” he said.“Almost a ticket to living the rest of my life.”
It’s a ticket I wish we could give to every single man with prostate cancer. But we and everyone whose part of Men United, are doing all we can to turn that wish into a reality, one day.
Whatever you’re planning this Christmas, make it a special one with your friends and family. Thanks for reading the blog this year. I really appreciate all the feedback. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.