Pastor George Crawford, 74, was born and raised in Jamaica. Now he lives in Leeds and works as a Minister in the New Testament Church of God. Pastor George’s father died of prostate cancer. His eldest brother died of prostate cancer. Two of his other brothers have had prostate cancer. And so has he. But it wasn’t until he started working as a Black Health Initiative Health Ambassador, to raise awareness of the disease, that he found out this wasn’t just incredibly bad luck. Having a family history of prostate cancer and simply being a Black man can increase your risk. Here he tells us why it’s so important to him to give Black men the information he didn’t have.
“One of the reasons I work to raise awareness of prostate cancer is because of what my family have been through. My father died from the disease when he was 86. But it wasn't his death that I cried for, I know we’re all going to die one way or another. It was the fact that he'd been through so much pain. That still brings tears.
“I have four other brothers, two older and two younger. My oldest brother, who lived in Jamaica, was diagnosed eleven years ago. He also died of prostate cancer recently. But at the time he was diagnosed we didn't know that having a family history of the disease means you’re at higher risk. Since that time, I was diagnosed and a brother in Canada and another brother here in Leeds were also diagnosed and have all had treatment.
“It was only when I started doing awareness talks four years ago I found out that if your father or brother is affected you’re at greater risk. I also found out that Black men are more likely to get prostate cancer and at an earlier age. I try to emphasise this in my talks. I also try to get over that prostate cancer can be silent. Most men wait until they're in pain before they go to the doctor. But you can’t wait for pain or for symptoms of prostate cancer because it might be too late.
“I had no symptoms whatsoever and, before I was diagnosed, I thought prostate cancer wouldn’t affect me. I wouldn’t have got myself checked if it wasn’t for my sister, who’s a nurse. Around the time we went to Jamaica to bury my father, she said to me: ‘Have you been checked for prostate cancer?’ I said: ‘No.’ And she said: ‘Don’t come out here unless you’ve been to get yourself checked.’
“So just to please her, I decided I’d go to the doctor. He sent me for a blood test and when it came back he said: ‘Your PSA level is high. I’m not saying you’ve got prostate cancer but we’ll go for further checks.’ So I went to Leeds General Infirmary and they did a digital rectal examination (DRE) and some other tests and confirmed it was prostate cancer. At that time it was like a dream – I didn’t believe they had it right.
“They gave me a choice of treatments and I had radiotherapy – 20 sessions of that, which meant going in every day for 20 days. I didn’t mind the treatment. The only thing I wouldn’t want to go through again is the CT scan, because I’m claustrophobic. That all happened eight years ago and now I'm alright. I'm feeling OK.
When I meet with male friends and speak to them about my journey with the disease I get their attention because my experience gives hope
“At the time I didn’t tell many of my friends I had prostate cancer because I don’t like sympathy for myself. I did tell some minister friends in a local prayer group and asked them to pray with me. I had a lot of support from them. And of course I told my wife. She was really worried. But I’m not the worrying type and I think that helped her because when people asked her: ‘Are you worried about it?’ She’d say: ‘Oh no, if he don’t worry, I don’t worry.’
“When BHI got in touch and invited me to go and speak, I thought: ‘Yeah why not’. The first time I spoke, about four men who were listening went to their doctor to find out about prostate cancer. It made me feel good to have helped somebody and I wanted to do more.
“Too many men have died through ignorance, too young. And I don't think the Black community is aware enough. With BHI I’ve been to places where we invite men to come and see the professionals and hear more about prostate cancer and they don’t turn up. I wish I knew why. I think sometimes we have our heads in the sand. I'm not sure it's because I'm Black, but I was like that when my brother died from it. I thought: ‘It's not going to happen to me.’ So if I’d heard then that people were talking about prostate cancer, maybe I wouldn't have gone along either.
“When I meet with male friends and speak to them about my journey with the disease I get their attention and it’s because my experience gives hope. They want to hear from a survivor more than they will listen to publicity campaigns. There was a time when people saw cancer as a death sentence. But I can say: ‘I have survived eight years and I'm walking and talking. I’m OK.’ It gives them confidence that even if they are diagnosed, they can get treated.
Treatment is no more embarrassing than the doctor saying open your mouth and looking down your throat
“I would say to any Black men, once you’re in your 40s, go and talk to your doctor about your risk of prostate cancer, and if you do have it, don’t be afraid of treatment. It's not as bad as some people make it out to be. It's no more embarrassing than the doctor saying open your mouth and looking down your throat. I've been through it and I can tell you.
“Think about your family, your wife, your girlfriend or children who might have to deal with losing you. Do it for their sake. Even if you feel it's embarrassing. I have quite a lot of nieces and nephews who love me very much and for their sake I would do anything to be alive.”
In May 2013, Fitz Lawson, a youth support worker from Milton Keynes, had a huge shock when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 54. Having lost his father to the disease and with two grown up sons, Fitz understands the importance of research in helping to find out why Black men are more at risk of prostate cancer. He explains what he’s doing to get more Black men involved in research to stop the disease ‘wreaking havoc’ in the community.See all stories