Actor Timothy West, now 80, has had a stellar career on stage, screen and radio. He is currently well loved as grumpy EastEnders granddad, Stan Carter, who has advanced prostate cancer that has spread to his spine. We caught up with him at the launch of our campaign, Men United, Keeping friendships alive, to hear his thoughts on how Stan is dealing with the disease, on friendship and on his own experience of prostate problems.

19 Mar 2015

EastEnders actor Timothy West, who plays a character with prostate cancer

Q. Tell us a little about the part you play?

I play a character called Stan Carter, he’s elderly and he has prostate cancer. Stan is far from being the ideal patient. He was very slow to think about his condition and recognise it, after initially finding he was peeing a great deal and feeling a certain amount of discomfort. And he was very, very reluctant to go and actually see a doctor about his condition. He particularly doesn’t like foreign doctors touching his body, especially in certain regions. He is terrible.

Q. Have you had prostate cancer yourself?

I have only had a glancing relationship with prostate cancer. I found myself, years ago, peeing a lot and I thought I’d better go and talk to a urologist about it. He said I think we should measure your prostate, and it was large and it was growing. And he put me onto a drug which has stopped it growing, although it has had various side effects. Some people would be reluctant to accept those side effects. But I am very glad I had the treatment and my PSA levels are OK. So, I think I am alright.

Q. What does the future hold for Stan?

Stan knows he is going to die, although he does not know exactly when.

Q. Has Stan reached out to family and friends to help him deal with this?

Telling his family about it has been difficult and they have reacted in different ways. But despite having decided he is going to reintegrate with his very dysfunctional family, he has closed the door to other friendships. He has not sought to find other people to whom he might share thoughts about the condition and the fact that he is going to die. I think when men have this disease, we can be a little reclusive talking about it. We are slow, too slow, in making friends and fostering friendships. Friendships are terribly important and, as you get older, your friends become fewer because some of them die.

Stan should be looking for friends. He should be going back in his past life where he had a few friends, and re-fostering their friendship.

Q. What do you think of our Men United campaign to keep friendships alive? Could it help Stan?

I think what Men United seeks to do, and its terribly important, is to hold out a hand to people to say come on, you will see people here with whom you can swap experiences, swap ideas, swap thoughts, swap feelings. You don’t have to stand there and wait for people to come, because they won’t. You just need a little push and you will like it when you get there. Men United and Prostate Cancer UK are helping people into these relationships.

Q. What is a true friendship?

I think a true friendship is the ability to talk about anything.

Q. And what’s the best piece of advice you’ve had from friends?

Look after your health, and if you have any troubles get them looked at early.

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