ATTENDING THE FOUNDATION
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 …
TO BE CONTINUED