As Jeff Stelling begins his epic 15-day March for Men from Exeter City's St James Park stadium this morning, we meet the Green family joining him today. A youth coach with the Grecians, Dan Green will walk with his mum, brother and sister alongside dad Rob, who was treated for prostate cancer in 2014. They talk to us about their fears for Rob's life after he suffered a stroke in surgery, and why football is such an important bond for the family.
They may only be walking a short stretch on the opening day of Jeff Stelling’s March for Men but for the Exeter-based Green family, it’s going to be an emotional journey.
Taxi driver Rob Green was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer in April 2014, and to say it’s been a rocky road from there on in is something of an understatement.
“Rob’s diagnosis came has a complete shock to us all,” says Bev, Rob’s wife. “We had a weekend away in Bournemouth with friends and it just came up in conversation that Rob was getting up a lot in the night for the toilet.
After we got back from our holidays, Rob was told he had prostate cancer and was booked in for surgery on my birthday
“He agreed that he would go for a checkup and so it began. A biopsy was booked along with a scan. Then after we got back from our holidays, Rob was told he had prostate cancer, the aggressive type, and was booked in for surgery on 19 September – my birthday.
“It was all explained to us but I don’t think we really understood how life-changing it was going to be. We’re fortunate in Exeter that operations are carried out by a robot, which is just an overnight stay and you’re good to go. Rob, though, ended up being in hospital for two weeks.
“Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke during the op so his recovery was slow. At the time, we were really worried about him. But he didn’t lose any mobility, just his memory for a while and his speech – both of which improved within a month or so.
“Then in January, he started his radiotherapy: a full 35 sessions, from Monday to Friday, for seven weeks. Rob was in touch with a specialist nurse at the hospital, who helped him with the side effects, but it did take a good year to get his bladder under better control.”
Rob (third from left) with wife Bev and her daughter Charlotte next to him, and Dan and Jono opposite.
After a recent scare with a rising PSA level, Rob received some reassuring news from his oncologist in April. And now the family – which includes their grown-up children Dan and Jono, and Bev’s daughter Charlotte – are set for a long-overdue holiday together.
“The bit where he told me was the hardest,” said Dan, who was released as a youngster from Exeter City but has been coaching in the club’s youth set-up for the past seven years.
“I’d been joking about not hearing from him for a few weeks, asking why he’d gone all quiet with me. Then he told me and it was difficult to hear. Scary. You don’t really see your dad like that, do you?”
Football was always in the Green family, with Rob coaching Exmouth Town and Topsham Town when Dan was a child.
“Football is probably the strongest bond we have,” says Dan. “He’s the person that got me into football. When he was a local manager, I’d go and sit on top of the dug-out and watch his side play.
“I’m sure I was very annoying in the changing room, aged five or six, handing out the players’ wages in envelopes. But I’d only do it if dad gave me £2 in a packet like he did for the rest of the players!”
Dan in his kit as manager of Exeter City's under-18s team.
Now, as full-time manager of Exeter City’s under-18 squad, Dan proudly sports his Prostate Cancer UK ‘Man of Men’ pin-badge on the sidelines of every game. And come rain or shine, Rob is usually in close proximity.
“I think he knows more than ever how loved he is,” says Bev. “We’re all very close and do try to spend quality time together. We won’t be doing the whole first day’s walk with Jeff Stelling, but we are so impressed at the way football is raising awareness.”
And how will Dan feel walking side-by-side with his old man on 2 June?
“I’ve got no doubt that the way we are, we probably won’t say anything about it while we’re walking. But we’ll both be thinking the same thing: you could quite easily be doing this walk on your own, couldn’t you?” says Dan.
“We’ll be walking with him to support him and anyone else that might end up getting prostate cancer. It will be great to spend that time together and support each other, while also supporting the cause for a quicker diagnosis, a better diagnosis and even better support for men with prostate cancer. It will be a very emotional day.”