Talking about cancer and dying
Peter was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013, aged 70. He was initially diagnosed with locally advanced prostate cancer, which was treated with radiotherapy and hormone therapy. He’s on long-term hormone treatment to stop the cancer progressing. He’s a registered nurse and comes from a big family – four brothers, four sisters, two children, and lots of grand-nieces and grand-nephews. Since his diagnosis, Peter has been travelling around the UK in a motorhome.
“I’ve got cancer” is a pretty scary thing to tell anyone. I was worried that my relatives would be very sad or act differently around me.
I was worried that my relatives would be very sad or act differently around me.
Once I’d said it the first time, I tried to be open about it and not avoid the subject.
It helps to talk about side effects like fatigue because then my family can understand why I’m not always able to do everything I want to do.
My family find it very reassuring when I talk with them openly about things. They want to know what’s going on and they like to help. They’ve said that it means they don’t worry about what is going on because they know I’m not hiding anything from them.
My family want to know what’s going on and they like to help.
I knew that my brothers were at increased risk of prostate cancer because I had it and our dad had it too.
When I was diagnosed I phoned all my brothers. It’s quite difficult to say, “I’ve got cancer.” It’s even more difficult to say, “And you might too”. I explained about prostate cancer and their risk and said that they should probably go and talk to their GPs.
All of them went to their GPs and thankfully all had a normal PSA level. But my brothers are going to keep an eye on their PSA levels and check they don’t rise.
Talking about dying
I’m happy to talk about dying because I think it breaks down the taboo. But it can be difficult. Sometimes it’s easier to say things like, “I’ve decided to donate my body to scientific research – what do you think?” People have lots of questions about that so it helps us start a conversation.
I’ve found that everyone reacts differently when you talk about dying and sometimes not how you’d expect. Some people shut down and it’s clear they are very uncomfortable talking about it. But most people are curious.
Everyone reacts differently when you talk about dying.
When my family ask how I am, I know that they actually want to know how I’m holding up and how treatment is going.
I’ve found it useful to bring humour into it – just because I’ve got cancer, life shouldn’t be depressing for me or those around me. I asked my brother, who’s a carpenter, whether he could make me a coffin. He agreed and asked what sort of production timescale I was looking at. I said it might not be useful for a while but perhaps I could use it as a coffee table in the meantime!
Just because I’ve got cancer, life shouldn’t be depressing for me or those around me.
Talking to children
When my brother’s grandchild was nine years old she saw that I was wearing the Prostate Cancer UK man of men badge. She said, “What’s that?” So I explained what prostate cancer is and that I had it.
One of the other children said, “Are you dying then?” I explained that we’re all going to die one day. And I will die much earlier than them, and a bit earlier than their other grandparents. And I would probably die from prostate cancer.
I explained that I wasn’t afraid and that they shouldn't be afraid. And they could always talk about it or ask questions if they wanted.
Children are naturally curious. They ask direct questions and expect direct answers. And I didn’t think it would be helpful to hide things from them.
Children are naturally curious. They ask direct questions and expect direct answers.
My tips for other men
- Talk about it if you want. I tried not to be afraid of upsetting other people. You don’t know how someone will react unless you give them a chance.
- People find it reassuring to talk. Most of my family are relieved when I talk openly. They know I’m not trying to hide anything.
- Be open with children. They know if somethings not quite right. And they can ask the direct questions that everyone wants to ask but are too afraid.
- Most of all, be positive. Live the life you have and make it enjoyable and fulfilling for yourself and everybody else.