Silence is the barrier we have to break down

Poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah explains his family connection to prostate cancer

What is your connection to prostate cancer?

I actually have a great interest in the subject of prostate cancer. Many years ago for Prostate Cancer UK, I wrote a play called ‘De Botty Business’ which was about some of the myths around prostate cancer and how we can overcome them within the black community.

I remember when I first heard about prostate cancer. A grandfather of mine in the Caribbean had died, and I asked my mum ‘how did he die?’ She said ‘he had water problems’. And I heard that a lot from various relatives. Now I know that a lot of those relatives did in fact have prostate cancer. It was a bit hush hush, because of how it affects our private areas, so we never really talked about it. But then I started to lose friends to the disease and found out about other friends who were affected by it.

So that’s why I feel very passionate about supporting this cause, because in my family black men of all ages just didn’t talk about it.

When I’m sitting down with eight of my mates, to think that two of them are going to get prostate cancer is really frightening.

Where do you draw your strength from?

I get my strength from knowing more. If I want to do all the things I’ve got to do, then knowledge is really important. Knowledge is power as they say, but self knowledge is even more powerful. If you don’t know yourself, nobody else really can.

How do you keep in control of your health?

By staying in control of my food and loving exercise. Both are really, really important things. You know, life has a lot in store for us, so try and stay as strong as you can. And being a vegan is really important for me - I love animals but I also love myself and care about what I put into my body. I think us people that do sport and are vegan can lead the way and be a good example of what you can achieve being vegan.

What do you think about the increased risk of prostate cancer amongst black men?

The stats are quite shocking actually. When I’m sitting down with eight of my mates, to think that two of them are going to get prostate cancer is really frightening. But I keep telling my friends that if you get checked early and keep in control of your body, you can overcome it. Ignorance is not bliss.

What advice would you give to other black men?

I would say that you’ve got to take care of yourself. It really is as simple as that. If you’ve got any worries, have a look online or go to your GP. Or contact me and we can talk about it!

(Photograph of Benjamin Zephaniah © Dennis Morris assisted by Bolade Banjo)


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