Nana Mensah-Bonsu was left broken after his dad's diagnosis with terminal prostate cancer. He tells us about the rollercoaster of emotions he experienced during the years of treatment that followed, how he rallied around his younger brothers and why he hopes joining Jeff Stelling for his March for Men would make his late father proud.
I’m the second oldest of five brothers [pictured above, three years ago. Nana is second from left] – the youngest two are 14 and 12. Knowing my two kid brothers will now grow up without a father for the rest of their lives is very hard to comprehend.
My dad was a really caring father who was always there for his children and really involved. At times, us older children probably thought he was too involved. But we understand more than ever now that we needed him, even when we felt we didn’t.
He was a man of peace, a caring man, always looking out for his mother, his kids and his granddaughters, who became the daughters he never had. He didn’t smoke, stopped drinking many years ago and tried to live a healthy life. He also loved football, and some of my best memories were watching the Ghana and England national team play with him.
Immediately after I got off the phone, I broke into tears. What hurt was dad had complained to the doctors and was told it was nothing to worry about
Learning about dad’s diagnosis in 2013 was a hugely difficult experience – I’ll never forget it. I had an exam coming up when he called me, so he said he would wait until afterwards to tell me what he had to say. I said: “You’re making me nervous and affecting my revision. What gives?” I got the feeling it was serious but thought it was something related to a family member in Ghana.
The next day, dad told me he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was shocked and saddened, but quickly realised I needed to be there for him. I told him he’d be fine and he would beat it. But he said: “No, son. It’s spread to other parts of my body and it’s terminal’. I was broken and said nothing for about ten seconds, then said: “It’s God’s world, dad, nobody knows but him.”
Immediately after I got off the phone, I broke into tears. What hurt was that dad had complained to the doctors about back pains and needing to urinate more frequently than normal. Our family doctor – on several occasions – told him it was nothing to worry about. But eventually he went for a prostate check by chance, by which time it was too late. That hurt us all; we felt let down.
After three years, I received another phone call with the harrowing words: “I’ve been told I’ve got weeks to live”
Dad was told he had between two and five years to live, and during that time it was strange. He looked and felt fit until the later stages, and it almost meant we could push it to the back of our minds. He organised a football tournament to raise money for prostate cancer, and often just kept himself busy reading about the disease and passing on whatever knowledge he had.
Then he became worse and the reality sank in again. Eventually, after three years, I received another phone call with the harrowing words: “I’ve been told I’ve got weeks to live”.
He was really weak by this time and in hospital. My youngest two brothers could now see things were really bad as, prior to this, we never told them the situation. My other brothers and I tried our best to be strong for them and our mother, realising the importance of sticking together.
Dad always remained positive, though, and was just happy seeing his kids doing well. He taught us the importance of life being too short, and the importance of getting the balance right between planning for the long and short term. I guess he worked so hard for the perfect retirement, which eventually was not to be.
I lost the will to want to work, picked up some bad habits and now, seven months on, I’m still recovering
Shortly afterwards, dad miraculously improved and came out of hospital. We then learned he qualified for a drug which could save his life and had saved many other terminally-ill prostate cancer patients. It was a really crazy rollercoaster for me and I pushed most people away, apart from my mother and brothers, as I didn’t believe anyone else could really appreciate what I was going through.
Eventually, dad ended up in a hospice and every day was painful. It was then I realised he had had enough and just wanted to go peacefully. Fortunately, dad didn’t suffer for too long and it was a relief to know he would feel pain no longer.
The whole experience completely changed my life. A lot of the things that used to worry me do not worry me in the slightest any more. So in a strange way, it’s made me stronger. But it certainly weakened me at first. I lost the will to want to work, picked up some bad habits and now, seven months on, I’m still recovering. But I’m almost there. I worried how it affected my brothers, but they’ve been supported so well and I trust we are now all fine.
Even in his last moments, dad expressed the importance of raising awareness of prostate cancer
As far as we know, my father is the first person in the family to be affected by prostate cancer. The one-in-four stat for black men getting the disease terrifies me now. The fact that I now have a heightened risk makes me want to generally keep myself fitter and have regular health checks. Ironically, since my father’s death, I have done the complete opposite. But I’m on the mend now and looking forward to being the fit man I was before.
My dad was big on education and I’m gutted he never made it to my Masters graduation. But even in his last moments, he expressed the importance of raising awareness of prostate cancer.
Despite having never done anything like March for Men before, the support and encouragement I've received from my employer, Palace for Life Foundation, and Crystal Palace Football Club has really spurred me on. I hope by walking for Prostate Cancer UK, I’ll be making dad proud.
Nana on the right, aged six, with his dad and brother.