When Gav Palmer's dad died from prostate cancer, the Middlesbrough fan and tattoo lover came up with the perfect way of commemorating him and showing his support for Prostate Cancer UK. Now with the recent birth of his own son, he's got two constant reminders of the preciousness of father-son relationships and is eager to spread awareness of the most common cancer in men among his fellow football fans.
When people notice Gav Palmer’s latest tattoo, prominent on his forearm, their reaction is often: “That’s class! But what is it?”.
Gav, a diehard Middlesbrough fan, would explain: “It’s the Man of Men logo for Prostate Cancer UK – you must have seen Boro boss Aitor Karanka and all the Premier League managers wearing the pin badge!”
The more eagle-eyed would then notice that one of the many male figures that make up the logo hasn’t been filled in. The outline is a permanent, skin-deep memorial to his beloved dad, who was sadly taken by prostate cancer in 2006.
Gav describes his dad, Colin, who worked as a joiner, as “a funny, laidback, lovely guy, who would do anything for anyone”. But he never really liked going to the doctor. “He had a fall at work, fell off the back of a van and hurt his hip,” says Gav. “He thought the pain was just from the fall and – being stubborn – he never went to get it checked out.”
But the pain got worse and worse. And when Colin was eventually diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003, it had already spread. He sat his family down and told them all the bad news. “I was only 20 – young and stupid!” says Gav. “It had an effect on me as the youngest in the family. It was hard, but you’ve got to get through it for him.”
Colin was treated with hormone therapy followed by radiotherapy. He responded well, but because his cancer was so advanced it could only extend his life rather than provide a cure.
As a family, watching him deteriorate was awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone
“There were massive changes with dad,” remembers Gav. “He was a big guy, a strong guy, but it’s amazing how much cancer knocks it out of you. As a family, watching him deteriorate was awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Gav and his family rallied round as Colin’s condition got worse, but eventually he had to move to a care home then back to hospital, where he died in April 2006. Gav recalls the day he died: “We’d gone to see him and he was fine, full of joy. We thought he was going to get better. When we left, the nurse told us to stay by the phones. Then about 9 o’clock we got a call asking us to come back to the hospital. He passed away that night.”
It was a devastating time for Colin’s loved ones. “To be honest I can’t remember how I felt,” says Gav. “You block it out, you know. It was horrible. My mum was distraught, and you’ve got to comfort her and be there for her. It was hard, really hard.”
The tattooist thought it would take four hours, but it turned into a twelve-hour tattoo. I had to go back three times!
A few years later, prostate cancer struck Gav’s family again. His partner’s granddad, Bill, was diagnosed. This time, however, the cancer was caught fairly early and although it has spread, Bill is responding well to hormones and chemotherapy. He’s a dedicated supporter of Prostate Cancer UK and when he started selling our Man of Men pin-badges, Gav had a proper look at our logo and had an idea.
“I like tattoos, I have quite a few,” explains Gav. “I went to a tattooist and he said: ‘I can do that, no problem’. We got it drawn up and I didn’t want it as big as it was, but the tattooist said it had to be that size as he couldn’t do it any smaller! He thought it would maybe take four hours, but it turned into a twelve-hour tattoo. I had to go back three times!”
But the end result – a bold, well-executed tattoo – was obviously worth it. And the most important detail is the figure of a man digging, left as an outline, which represents Colin in his working life as a joiner.
The Man of Men logo has captured the imagination of many of our supporters, and Gav is aware of how powerful a symbol it can be. “You’ve got to own the logo in your own way,” he says. “Now we’re getting stickers for my brother’s van!”
Nowadays, Gav is kept busy by his newborn son – called Colin after his granddad – and is looking forward to taking him to the Riverside Stadium to watch his Boro heroes in top-flight action
“I see the managers and players as role models, so it’s great to see them supporting Prostate Cancer UK by wearing the pin badge,” he said. “I’ve also got so much respect for Steve Vickers and Neil Maddison, who cycled from London to Amsterdam for the charity a few years ago.”
Both Vickers and Maddison were in the Boro ranks when a surge of continental flair spearheaded the club to two Wembley cup finals – and relegation – in an epic period witnessed from the stands by a younger Gav.
Every time I see the tattoo on my arm, it makes me think of my dad
“I used to have a season ticket when I was younger and was a regular in possibly the greatest era in the club’s history, with the likes of Fabrizio Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson,” he said of his love for the club.
“Dad wasn’t really into football, he loved the races. But my weekends are freer now and I can’t wait to take Colin to his first game.”
Gav so wishes he could have met his namesake, and has vowed he’ll go to the doctors should any symptoms arise in the future so he has the best chance of being around for his son. In any case, Gav now has a permanent reminder of just how special and important the father-son relationship can be.
“Every time I see the tattoo on my arm, it makes me think of my dad,” says Gav. “It just gives me happy thoughts of him every day.”