Blogger Nick Wright talks to Men United hero Alan Taylor and hears about a man with incredible passion and drive from the men who know him best. His friends.
Ten years is a long time. It’s longer than your average Hollywood marriage. Longer than The Beatles were together. What’s happened to you over the last ten years?
For Alan Taylor, they’ve been pretty monumental. Alan was diagnosed with prostate cancer fourteen years ago, aged 58 with no signs or symptoms. He’s had radiotherapy and hormone treatment which has continued on and off over the years.
Alan worked for the Department for Work and Pensions, and its predecessors, for 37 years. Due to his background Alan was used to researching various subjects and being meticulous at studying changing and new legislation. But when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer he didn’t know anything about the disease.
“I didn’t know what a PSA test was or where to find information when I was diagnosed. That started the whole thing and it’s just built up from then,” Alan told me. And the ‘whole thing’ he talks about is 10 years of getting out and about in the North East, making sure thousands of men know their risk of prostate cancer and their entitlement to a PSA test.
I asked Alan if he knew how many posters and leaflets he reckons he’s given out and how many organisations he’s worked with. I expected a vague answer. But Alan told me he has a contact list of 160 organisations across the North East and around the UK. He’s sent out 12,422 posters and 115,544 leaflets and booklets to his contacts. And the number of employees (men and women) who may see the awareness material he gives out each year varies between 83,000 and 220,000.
That’s one man with an unbelievable amount of dedication and drive. And not only that, he’s written articles, set up petitions to No 10 Downing Street and submitted comments in response to Government consultations. Alan also volunteered for Prostate Cancer UK for many years and is an active user of our online community.
I’ve been fortunate to know Alan for a while now and his commitment to keep on making a difference is nothing short of incredible. But I wanted to find out more about the man behind the mission. So I spoke to the men who know him best. His friends.
He’s a technician. Knows exactly what he’s doing. If he doesn’t know something he researches it.
Ray Burns and Eddie Lynch have known Alan for nearly 40 years, working with him at the Department for Work and Pensions.
Now all retired, Ray and Eddie regularly meet Alan for a pub lunch around Newcastle and hear all about his work in Men United. Eddie said: “We chat about anything: motoring, what’s happening in the world – but Alan always keeps us up to date about what he’s been up to. He’s a technician. Knows exactly what he’s doing. If he doesn’t know something he researches it.” Ray added: “He’s tireless in the amount of work that he does. He studies a subject and devotes himself to a solution."
I asked Ray about what they think of his work. “He takes a very active role promoting awareness. He gives support to so many people. He has such a great awareness of his own condition that he got his act together to help others. I really admire the amount of dedication he’s prepared to give. He can be a source of strength and encouragement to others."
For George Hardy, his friendship with Alan began through our online community. George said: “I’d known him on the forums for many years but we’ve became close over the last few years. We talk a lot on the phone, and often, when I have an oncology appointment in Newcastle we meet up for a good old chat. Alan’s a very clever lad, as we say on Tyneside, and he always brings a folder with him!
“What strikes me most is his tireless scrutiny of all things connected to prostate cancer. He often sends me an excellently worded forum post or a draft letter to a health organisation, asking whether I think it’s ready to post.
“He is so meticulous in everything he does that he will hold back until he’s assured everything is accurate, and every time I say: ‘Alan, you can’t improve on that, honestly. Just hit the send button for heaven’s sake, it really is good stuff!' "
Such glowing tributes. And when I speak to Alan, sometimes I don’t think he realises the impact of what he’s doing.
Eddie said: “I’ve got so much confidence in the man. There’s something in his make up that wants to achieve something and he does it with such enthusiasm – at the age of 73. He’s just got something there."
So what is that something? To keep doing that year after year must be exhausting. But it’s worth it for Alan.
It's clear that many men are getting diagnosed with prostate cancer without having a clue about the disease.
“When I go back to an organisation, quite often they say we’ve had a couple of guys that’ve been diagnosed because they picked up that leaflet I’d given them,” he told me. “I’m quite chuffed about that. Hearing that gives me the satisfaction that the information is there and can be useful.”
He added: “My prostate cancer was diagnosed without any warning. This was a huge shock. Over the years since my diagnosis it has been clear that many men are getting diagnosed with prostate cancer without having a clue about the disease. They rarely know their risk of developing prostate cancer. Men with concerns about prostate cancer should speak to their GP for information about their risk and having an informed choice PSA test."
For his friend Ray, this was very close to home. He said: “A good friend of mine was diagnosed with prostate cancer and he didn’t have a lot of information. I consulted Alan and he was so helpful. He gave me leaflets and told me who to speak to at Prostate Cancer UK. Just so supportive. That just sums up our friendship."
So what about 2015 for Alan? In his 74th year, he’s still as keen as ever. In fact he has recently completed an extensive review of the information men are given by the NHS and the main cancer charities (the Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme) and informed choice PSA testing.
“Plans for the future? I’d like to keep on with awareness activities. My wife supports me with this but perhaps the time has come to concentrate less on sending out posters and leaflets and give more time to other activities."
We’re incredibly lucky to be surrounded by heroes in Men United – people, like Alan, willing to go the extra mile to make a difference to men’s health.
If you’re inspired by Alan’s story then please get involved in any way you can this year. If you and your friends could put up one poster or hand out one leaflet, that could be information that saves someone’s life. Make that first step. If we all do it, who knows what we could accomplish.