Bill Elliott and his son James tell us how a family health crisis turned into a national newspaper campaign, then a life-long commitment to improving awareness and treatment of prostate cancer through golf.
Twelve years ago, the then golf correspondent for The Observer, Bill Elliott, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was one of two life-changing moments that followed in quick succession for the Elliott family.
"I was diagnosed at eight minutes past 12, and 22 minutes later – in a separate hospital five miles away – my wife, Valerie, was also diagnosed with breast cancer," explains Bill.
Weeks later, his wife was undergoing surgery, while at the same time Bill was being denied the brachytherapy treatment on the NHS that his consultant had recommended. So, naturally, he began an Observer campaign to highlight the problem.
"Within two months we managed to change things and get the treatment for a lot of men," says Bill. "That said, there are still a significant number of men in various parts of the country who are not receiving the treatment that they should be."
It's that continuing sense of inequality around prostate cancer that has driven Bill as our golf ambassador for many years now. And recently he got his son, James, involved too – playing together at our golf day at The Berkshire earlier this year, alongside Ray Clemence and Trevor Brooking (pictured above).
"I think it’s definitely strengthened us as a family," says James of his parents' cancer diagnoses. "Me and my brother, Simon, took one parent each after the news and convened in a restaurant and did some damage to the bar.
"I think whenever you go through these kind of events, you do pull together – sometimes in ways you can’t quite understand. There have been some tears, but also a lot of laughs. I kind of took it upon myself to be the light relief and I think in our own slightly befuddled way, we got our way through it."
My wife and I have made sure our sons know their risk given the fact I've had prostate cancer
Our recent YouGov poll showed 33% of people are dangerously unaware that having a family history of prostate cancer significantly increases a man’s risk of the disease – but Bill is making sure his sons aren't among them.
"James is 40 later this year and Simon is 43," says Bill. "They’re intelligent and they know the situation, but my wife and I have made sure that they are constantly aware that it's important to know their risk given the fact I've had prostate cancer."
Despite knowing his increased risk, James is happily unperturbed.
"I’m much more confident about cancer now, in a weird way," he says. "The research is clearly working and the chances of survival now are significantly better because of the vitally important work of what charities like Prostate Cancer UK are doing."
"While the usual suspects – former winners Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and defending champion Brooks Koepka – must be high on anyone's list of fancied runner," says Bill, "the biggest noise so far has been made by Tiger Woods, as he continues a comeback to action that has millions switching on.
"Woods has done this not by saying anything, but by tying up his 25million-dollar yacht 'Privacy' (maybe he does have a sense of hunour after all) just a few miles from the course. It's as if he's saying 'beat that' to his rivals.
"Maybe one man can, for at this range my pennies are falling firmly on Aussie Jason Day. After a lean couple of years this powerful golfer is ready."