Stephen's Blog

PART 3 …….

So I’ve heard those words ” You have cancer ” ………….. then a pause from the Nurse.  And then came the ” BUT!” But its not serious” , she said. Now I had not left my story at the point last week, deliberately  to make light of the situation and or make people think  I was being flippant , it was just a case of me trying to show an absolute total and utter relief after that initial second I thought I had a serious condition. My relief was palpable especially when I got a full explanation.  I was told that it was common for a man of my age to have abnormal areas of their prostrate, as they found, but an abnormality that in all likelihood would not get any worse. So with careful monitoring I should have a clean bill of health in that area for several years to come. The relief was even greater because I had convinced myself that I did have something serious and had allowed it to become worse by ignoring the symptoms for years and playing Russian Roulette with myself!  All the worry and concern I had stored up disappeared that day and it was all down to the gee up I received from attending the Foundation.

So ive been going to the Foundation for 6 weeks or so and I return to tell everybody the good news.  On this occasion a few new members were sitting around the table. As you will probably notice from everything ive written about the Foundation so far that a big emphasis is placed on “Talking!” I suppose its obvious to  assume the Foundation called the 2 hour session ” Team Talk ” , following the ” Its Good To Talk ” mantra .  At this session a lady attended , I won’t mention her name, for confidentiality reasons, other than to call her  “K” but she shared her story about problems with alcohol.   

I began to think if the Foundation Posters scattered around East Cleveland are attracting people like myself and “K” who had faced a lot of demons in the past and present and wanted somewhere to go and just “Talk.” I say this because its virtually impossible to get ” Counselling ” from anywhere !!!!   The irony is my Doctor and Psychiatrist emphasised I badly needed Counselling or Talking Therapy and both gave me contact details for countless providers in Cleveland , only to find that there was a minimum of 9 months waiting time to see anybody.  So upon discovering I could go and “Talk” at the Foundation, thats exactly what I did. 

Over the coming weeks I shared a lot of personal things round a table and also listened to other people’s problems. I suppose as I said earlier , it was akin to a Counselling session but without a trained Counsellor.  Just talking and unloading my thoughts helped me and at this point I want to give praise to one person who I believed actually listened , showed some empathy and understood. That person was Charlie Bell. Charlie Bell who played for Middlesbrough FC in the late 1970’s.  Charlie was about the fourth Foundation worker to grace the facility in Skinningrove. On two separate occasions I divulged a fair bit of my personal past experiences and Charlie actually looked concerned when I was telling a particular story from years ago. Now what helped me was that he not only listened but the fact he looked concerned and made me think he was actually listening and empathizing. When I notice that reaction I actually feel as though with that concern, somebody cares, and if somebody cares then I actually feel better inside for sharing my problems.  I’ve have many occasions where I’ve opened up, discussed very personal things in search of concern or empathy only to find the person or persons’ supposedly listening look totally detached or even disinterested.  Imagine how that makes you feel .

16 years ago I did get several Professional Counselling Sessions . Before id completed all the sessions the fully qualified Counsellor called me “Don Quixote.” I thought.” That old man on a horse who lived in Spain, why is he calling me that?”  I went home and studied Don Quixote a bit more. I came to the conclusion that the Counsellor thought I was a fantasist and what I was telling him wasn’t true !  The thing was what I’d been telling him for several months was 100% true and factual , but he was doing what everybody was doing at that time and that was not believing me!  In all honesty what had happened to me near that period and what I was saying probably seemed pretty unbelievable but it was all true!  When you are finding that you are suffering and you seek out help and tell the truth only to be disbelieved and basically labelled a Fantasist, by God do you feel hurt, bewildered and even worse than before you asked for help.  

Reluctantly I went back for another Counselling session and as I thought the Counsellor intimated that he did not believe what I was saying and that I was causing my own problems by pursuing actions for no good reason. I found that very hurtful because it was the direct opposite of the truth, so I got up and walked out !
To this very day I cannot believe that the Counsellor got that opinion of me and that he placed that label on me.  Surely Counsellors are supposed to be 100% impartial and non-judgemental? 

All that experience did for me was make me feel worse!  It made me feel more detached from people and made me more wary of human contact. I had no friends or family to unburden my thoughts to, so I had to find a Counsellor . I just felt after that experience that I was now totally on my own! I had no friends and no family to talk to, so I had to talk to a 3rd party who then made me feel worse. Sublimely 16 years ago and up until I attended the Foundation a Year a go, I’d probably chosen to keep away from people and remain an outcast from society , paradoxically for what I thought was my own sanity.  

So a year ago I decided I couldn’t continue with my self-induced exile from society and consciously chose to attend the Foundation.   

Ive remembered the names of the 3 Foundation members who attended within my first 6 weeks there , Mark, Lee and Jamie were their names.  Id like to thank all of those for listening to me.  Also for the Christmas Cards and being on the end of a phone when I was attending hospital and taking interest and concern in my health. For the previous 3 years id received two Christmas cards only, One from my Car insurer and the other from the PDSA.

Christmas comes and goes and we are now in the New Year. By now the Foundation has been going for 4 Months in East Cleveland and there are probably a hard core of 6 Users, whom I’ll refer to as the “Magnificent 6.” Only Six users  bewildered and even concerned me !  There are Posters scattered all over East Cleveland and the Job Centres are promoting it, so where are everybody? I made a quip about people refusing to leave Wetherspoons, Ladbrokes or the Local Working Man’s Club. That’s 100,000 people in East Cleveland and only 6 users ?   During that first 6 months all 6 of us did nothing more than talk round a table , but it is ” Team Talk .”   ” Kitchen Therapy” had started by this time and there was an opportunity to attend a 6 week Kitchen Course with ” Chef ” , a ” MasterChef ” Semi-finalist at the Golf Club in Saltburn, so now there is more choices than just talking. Then Covid strikes!  

I would  like to thank Gary Walton and Charlie Bell for bringing me a  ” Chef ” cooked meal on many occasions delivered to my door in  April, May and June, it was very kind and thoughtful. As I was not seeing anybody at all for weeks on end now, I really looked forward to them showing and both would ask how I was doing .Charlie twice turned up in a Batman outfit !  If I’m truthful it looked like the one Del Boy wore in Only Fools and Horses, The Bat ears looked a bit droopy but hey he’d made the effort and im now eating a gourmet meal.  It made me very humble and grateful in equal measures. 

Gary set up a ” Zoom ” meeting for ” Magnificent 6″  or on occasions 3 or 4 depending on circumstances and some starting work.  We would do quizzes on zoom.  That 30 minutes to one hour was again the only human contact I was getting once in that week, so you can imagine I found it welcome ! Ive complimented Charlie so I want to compliment Gary and all I’m going to say is …. He’s a nice and likeable young man very suited for his position in the Foundation .  We “Zoom” on and off for 3 months and the meals keep coming.  

When the restrictions are lifted we start doing ” Walk and Talk ” which are just gentle strolls where we talk about anything for 2 hours! One walk helped me discover the Beach at Skinningrove which is better than Bondi! Amazingly I’ve lived in Cleveland for 40 odd years and 12 years in East Cleveland and didnt even know it was there.  Now the secret is out !

So thats it and up to date. I’m still attending every week and the first year is now up, as we are about to be locked up again! Gary said today he will start ” zoom” and the quizzes again and the meals may start again. 

I know I was asked to state how the Foundation has helped me and what they actually do , so I hope I have.
I know on occasions I’ve flown off at a tangent discussing many other things or been long winded in some aspects and I apologise if I’ve done too much of that. The thing is I have sought out writing as a way of reaching people and making human contact with words. I have so few options to make contact in this big world we live in, some reasons are self induced , others due to circumstance by having no friends or family. I said to Rob Nichols that writing as often been therapeutic for me and doing these pieces posted on FMTTM certainly has been . I’ve smiled, grimaced, frowned and even blubbered like a baby whilst writing these past three pieces but above all enjoyed doing them. 

So thank you for reading, I’ve not used spell check or grammarly, I’ve just written and not checked anything, so if there are any errors … I don’t care   !!!!   

 UP THE BORO !!!! 

Stephen M

Stephen's Blog

Foundation Fix #2


So it’s my first time attending and I’ve been asked if I would like a Cup of tea or Coffee. Now, as I mentioned earlier a Psychiatrist had deduced only a few months before that having something as basic as that gesture would be therapeutic for me.  Someone would be thinking about me and in a every day act of kindness and good manners merely from the offer of a hot beverage.  I know that the Psychiatrist was implying that if anybody did anything for me, with some thought behind it, no matter how small, maybe in an act of kindness,  that the actions would improve my state of mind. 

Now at this point and I’m barely through the door, I thought “Blimey, here’s that cup of tea coming!” What was more reassuring was that the person who asked was wearing a MFC Red Tracksuit and I felt safe and welcome immediately! Had I been walking into another establishment and somebody in a “White Coat” had asked me, I probably would have ran away! Actually I probably wouldn’t have even been in that building by choice! Id decline the offer for fear they were trying to poison me! Now I’m not being flippant here but when I attended, although not apparent to anybody I was in a delicate state of mind, shall we say.

I was asked my name and the Foundation representative introduced himself. There may have been two representatives both in Tracksuits, I can’t recall and embarrassingly I cannot remember their names. I was also greeted by another gentleman called “Mark,” he was a year older than me and he lived in Skelton. He seemed that assured and articulate that I assumed he was also a Foundation representative, when in fact he was in fact a new client like me. What I discovered was that Mark had been the very first attendee/client and I was the second. I joked so it is like the “Prisoner then and Mark is Number 1 and I’m Number 2!” I then joked about being Number Two and said “Do you know what, I’m flushed with pride!”

As there were only myself and Mark attending all we really did was discuss what had brought us there and bits from our past experiences. At this point I concluded that everything was new and in its infancy. Nothing had been officially organised and it was more a case of what we wanted to achieve or do, within reason as opposed to the Foundation laying down what we had to do or follow. I’d go so far as to say that not only had myself and Mark entered the building with a blank piece of paper but the Foundation representatives had also. It was as though we would all progress together and I found that reassuring as we were not been told what to do or had to follow any pre ordained script ! We can all progress together but where were we going?

I felt at ease because everything was very relaxed. After I’d talked about myself and mentioned “loneliness,” quite a bit, Mark started to talk. He was sat down and his jacket was adorned with the silver prostate awareness lapel badge. He started to talk about prostate cancer and his experience of surviving it. If I’m totally honest I actually turned my mind off at this point. Maybe its that man thing where some of us don’t want to discuss or confront that issue and I know I’m not alone in having that stubborn silly attitude. He talked at great length about prostate cancer, so much so that I’m sure it was a quest for him to get through to any man who would listen. Maybe, he was at the Foundation purely for that reason. After about 2 hours all three of us stopped talking and the allotted time period was up. Nobody else attended and as I left said I would return the following Tuesday.

On the way home I kept thinking about Mark and his prostate cancer ramblings. That is a cruel thing to think because I knew he was trying to be helpful. The thing was I was applying that stiff upper lip, not me Guv, I won’t get that, male caveman attitude! The funny thing was I then couldn’t stop thinking about what he had said for days! What Mark did not know was that 4 years previously I had an appointment to have my prostate examined and I never went. I was scared and just couldn’t bear the thought of what they were going to do, I won’t spell it out as I’m sure most know what the procedure involves, so basically I chickened out! As I had nobody in my life to discuss the issue with I had nobody to call me a fool, so it was easy for me to ignore everything and I did exactly that !

I attended the Foundation again the following week and again it was just me and Mark and one representative. We again just all seemed to talk, bits about football and again about what we would like to achieve. Mark once again went off on his Prostate Cancer ramble. As he talked he kept looking at me but OK he would as there is only me and one other man there. I was starting to take it very personal and was close to thinking this has all been orchestrated and he’s deliberately here just to get me to think about Prostate Cancer.

Eventually Mark wore me down and I came clean about avoiding the appointment 4 years previously. When I told him he shook is head and I felt like I was back at school being told off by a teacher. He called me a “Fool” and proceeded to grill me until I promised I would go to the Doctors. He would not let up until I promised, which I did . Strangely I felt as though the grilling was meant to be and had an element of fate behind it. The session ended and if I’m going to give a full appraisal about my first two Foundation visits I would conclude that the biggest and most important thing I took away was the fact I was going to get my prostate checked out. This time I will not chicken out because I’d made a promise to somebody else, where previously I could only make promises to myself and those promises are easily broken. My God I even shook his hand when I made the promise and that to me is an oath of intent never to be broken !

I made the Doctors appointment and attended the surgery within 4 days (now anyone would be lucky to get an appointment within 4 months, if at all but I digress) . I had a blood test which determines a PI level (or something like that) which is the yardstick used to determine the possibility of an unhealthy prostate. A reading of around 3 is normal for a Male before 30 years of age but the level increases in just about every male as they age. My reading was 7.5 and I’m not exaggerating when I say the Doctor looked concerned when he told me, so much so that I was getting seen at James Cook Hospital by a Specialist within a week ! Isn’t the NHS great, My God how professional and quick was that. Or is it now WASN’T the NHS great last year but ISN’T now , but I digress again!

Over the next 2 weeks I’m discussing all of this, not only with Mark but also with the Foundation representative. I really wish I could remember his name because he was genuinely concerned and interested in my hospital appointment and any outcomes. Four or five weeks at the Foundation and I’m starting to notice a genuine kind, thoughtful and caring attitude. In all honesty because only me and Mark had regularly attended for the first few weeks and nobody else, bar one or two faces, who showed then never to be seen again, I feel all that had been achieved was something akin to having counselling session’s without anybody being professionally qualified to take them.

Now that is not a criticism because its good to talk and listen and that’s what all 3 or 4 of us did. It’s also good to talk to somebody who isn’t professionally qualified because many of those have learnt most of what they know or think they know from a text book! In my experiences sometimes I’ve felt more reassured talking to somebody just like me, who is unqualified.

That’s probably why Elton John walked into an old dusty hall and sat on a wooden chair surrounded by the average person in the street, whom he assumed had problems like him. He’d had enough of reclining in a luxury leather armchair being interrogated by a £5,000 an hour Beverly Hills shrink, so sought out what he’d needed for a long time, that’s someone from his early background and roots to talk to. By being in this room in an old hall in New York he had metaphorically gone back to the smoky working men’s clubs and halls, surrounded by people who sang along with him, where Elton got paid 5 Bob a night and his happiest memories lay. He had never felt as happy than at those early events surrounded by working class people all singing along together and he yearned to go back to that starting point and maybe do what came after differently. To go on his new journey he needed to tell people who he could relate to from those old times and not the false people in his current life, whom he had become like!

Again I’m no different and I sought out what felt comfortable with me and in a subliminal sought of way I was going back to my earliest nicest memories, something associated with MFC.

In the past I too sang along together with people like me, not in a room but in a stadium full of 50,000 people! In 1967 even Elton could only dream of ever singing with that many people (Watford never got those crowds!) .

My biggest and nicest early memory was walking into Ayresome Park in 1967 surrounded by those 50,000 people (OK the gate was given as 40,000 but everyone swears there were thousands more crammed inside on that special night) just like me and my Dad! Id never experienced anything like it, the glow of those floodlights, I’d not seen light so bright before, the noise, the chanting, what are they singing Dad. I asked “Come on Boro,” he told me. “Go on son you shout it, as loud as you can.”

He lifted me up and sat me over his shoulders with my legs dangling on his chest, which couldn’t have been easy because we were packed like sardines and you couldn’t get a fag paper between us and those in front, sideways and behind! We were three quarters of the way back in the corner opposite the Holgate. I can’t remember whether it was called the Clive Road corner but it was the area where the wall collapsed that night and I saw it all unfold as a 7 year old. For some daft reason I can remember Dickie Rooks bald head, shining like a beacon in those lights.

“Where’s his hair gone Dad,” I asked.

I don’t think I had seen a bald footballer before as even Bobby Charlton and Ralph Coates had comb-overs.

Even with that massive crowd and all those people I felt safe, very happy and actually as I shouted at the top of my voice “Come on Boro,” very much belonging and part of something. The rest is history from that night but I mentioned it because it was the very first time I’d felt as happy and I didn’t really know why? I too was an only child, yes just like Elton and I felt my life started that day and it was a new chapter in my life with adventures ahead.

So that’s the irony that over 50 years later I’m attending something else connected with MFC and its another new chapter in my life with more adventures ahead .

OK I went off on one a bit there, so its back on track… Prostate Cancer and adventures! I had a MRI scan one week and then returned to the Foundation. Once more, Mark and the Foundation rep were very concerned and interested. Next week I was going to have a biopsy and when I told Mark he smiled. Both asked me to phone them after that and we exchanged numbers. Now the strange thing here for me was that even though I did not have one person in my life before, two people were now concerned about me, so much so that not only do they care, they are giving me their phone numbers. Although on every occasion I was walking in that hospital on my own I knew there were two people out there who not only knew I was going and why but that they also were concerned.

I had the biopsy and if I’m perfectly blunt it was possibly the 2nd worse physical pain I’ve experienced in my life after having my arm and hand engulfed in flame 17 years ago! All I’ll say is if you are offered an anaesthetic take it, don’t be clever like me and refuse it because I thought I was tough but Jesus it hurt, a lot! I felt I’d been shot 12 times in that certain area! 

I read the recent thread on FMTTM about “what’s the worst pain you’ve experienced” and I’d like to submit for consideration a prostate biopsy involving 12 shots! Actually, talking about that thread, the worst pain of all in my experience which makes physical pain pale into insignificance is mental pain, I was surprised nobody mentioned that. I’ve experienced what I would say is the greatest pain of all which as no equal and no its not “loneliness.” Can I ask at this point if you really considered and thought about it deeply what would you say would cause probably the greatest pain a human could have to endure? I’d be really interested to see if anybody else mentions it or agrees with me? 

Right, I’ve had the biopsy and I’ve phoned my two new friends to let them know. I get a well done, we are thinking of you and a good luck off both.

So attending MFC Foundation for 4 or 5 weeks has led me to this point. Had I not attended the Foundation I would never have done what I had just done.

I’ll fast track now a week a head and again on my 4th visit to James Cook I’m on my own again but still knowing I have my two new friends waiting at the end of a phone. I attend and wait for what is the longest hour of my life, my heart is beating very fast and my palms are sweaty, My name is called and I am ushered into a small room where a Nurse arrives with clipboard who proceeds to shuffle a few papers then tells me “Stephen you have Cancer” …

I gulp for air and feel like I’m going to faint within the second I hear those fateful words! After that seconds pause, the longest second ever …


Stephen M

Stephen's Blog

Broken Man and the Boro Foundation Fix

I’ve started here because I’m trying to convey why I even decided to attend the Foundation in the first place. 
If I’m brutally honest it was because of abject unadulterated loneliness! My loneliness was so bad that it was destroying my life and eating me away. I’d reached
a crossroads in my life where I had to do something about it!
The best comparison I can make is with Elton John!  Strange comparison some may think but if anybody has seen the film “Rocketman” or is aware that Elton has been plagued by Mental illness , Loneliness (even with hundreds of so called friends and family members) Emptiness, Feelings of Worthlessness and Addictions for most of his life, you’ll be aware he did something to deal with and overcome his troubles! 
So why compare to Elton John, I’m not a Rock Star or famous? There’s one scene in the film which sets the tone for the rest of the film. Elton has had enough and he knows he has to do something, so he jumps in a taxi and ends up at some facility akin to “Alcoholics Anonymous.” I’m not an expert on all the fineries of Elton’s life but this happened in the 1970’s and is supposedly true. Whether he knew of the existence of this facility in advance (had he seen a Poster, somewhere?) or he asked the Taxi Driver to take him somewhere for help, I’m not sure. Regardless he did it and he did it because in his own words he was a “Broken Man.”
Now, that is very strange because even before I knew he said that I was going to write, I first attended the MFC Foundation because I was a “Broken Man.” So me and Elton were both broken, for some similar but also very different reasons. If I was to write why I’m broken and still am, I am certain not one person would scoff or give me the “Pull yourself together,” cliche or ever think I was being dramatic. I don’t mind saying why I’m “Broken” and telling my story at a later time.
Elton sat down on a chair, gave a false name and proceeded to talk for hours! In the film nobody interrupted him as he proceeded to tell his woes and life story, surrounded by a dozen or so fellow clients/addicts who just sat and listened.  Now, Elton had an ego, a massive one! He had fame and  money and had been indulged for many years, his tantrums were and still are notorious. He probably felt it was his right to sit there and monopolise everything whilst being the centre of attention. Surprisingly he didn’t say, “Don’t you know who I am?!?” Regardless, Elton at least sought for help because he realised he needed help, he made that step and that’s exactly what I did! He had sought out what he could relate to… people like him, in a setting he felt comfortable with. 

Now that’s where most of the similarities end. Although I had to find something I could relate to also, in order to make that first step and that was M.F.C! I saw a poster for M.F.C. Foundation which I’m sure said “Are You Lonely?” somewhere in its wording, or something similar. I thought, ‘Oh Look Middlesbrough Football Club and the word “Lonely” written together.’
Now, there are only 3 things that when I’m at the lowest of the low in my life, have even made me get up in the morning… My dogs, My Music and My M.F.C.! Since 1967 and that famous 4-1 3rd Division match against Oxford (my very first match as a 7 year old) it’s been “MY M.F.C!” The very existence of them is in my psyche, my very soul and gives me a purpose that will not go away!!!! 
I phoned the number on the poster, spoke to somebody and attended at the Riverside Building in Skinningrove the next week. I’d done an Elton John and made that first leap towards something I knew and felt comfortable and at ease with… something that had been part of me for 54 years! At that time maybe nothing else would EVER have prompted me!


Now stating “Making that first leap” and the Elton John comparison may make some think…. ” How dramatic,” but believe you me, even making the call to attend was a massive and difficult  thing for me to do!  Loneliness destroys you as a person! It takes away your confidence and over a prolonged period makes every single action you do feel like climbing a mountain!
Three Months before I attended the Foundation I had a form of mental breakdown which had been coming for some time, I even knew it was coming! One thing eventually pushed me over the edge, I won’t say what it was but it caused a lot of problems and trouble for the Organisation which caused it!
For the first time in 15 years I was seeking out Psychiatric Professional help, again. Luckily, my Doctor listened and I was referred to a Psychiatric crash team. I was suffering from major anxiety, paranoia and delusions. Nothing was rational in my mind any more. Eventually I saw a psychiatrist who let me do exactly what Elton did…. talk uninterrupted!
I didn’t get the several hours Elton got but 45 minutes! I just unloaded my mind and the words flowed. When I eventually stopped after shouting, crying and just about every emotion you can think of came out, the Psychiatrist said “If somebody made you a cup of tea or asked you if you were OK every now and again, I’m certain you wouldn’t be here.” Bingo, Hallelujah, Nail on the head…
I was lonely and wasn’t even getting the tiny things those with family and friends take for granted!  As a consequence I had snapped! If one person made me a cup of tea, asked me how I was feeling or was just about to talk to once a Month, I’d be the luckiest man alive! Past events coupled with prolonged loneliness had broken me… Again! As the Rolling Stones sang… ” Here it comes, here it comes… It’s Just My 19th Nervous Breakdown!” I may have had about 11 or 12  of those in my life and if I don’t or can’t do something about Loneliness I’m worried I’ll surpass 19!  
Although many other past events and even my personality make me susceptible to mental illness, particularly anxiety and constantly feeling “Broken,” I can deal with that, suppress it and accept it but accepting and putting up with constant loneliness on top is destroying me!

So Loneliness …the silent Killer, prompted me to do something to alleviate it… Attend M.F.C Foundation. Attend but be careful and don’t do an Elton John when I get there and think everything is just about me. I have a tiny ego, so I went on my first visit, prepared to listen rather than talk.

When I first walked through the door sometime in early October 2019 I was pointed in the direction of somebody wearing a M.F.C tracksuit. I don’t recall his name but he asked “Would you like a Cup of Tea or Coffee?”


Stephen M