Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Tuesday 13th February 2018

WAS it really any great surprise to anyone to learn that last year the number of men dying from prostate cancer in the UK exceeded the number of women dying from breast cancer?

It shouldn’t have been. For almost two decades the graphs have been inexorably closing on each other at a constant rate, with breast cancer deaths falling at almost exactly the same rate as prostate cancer fatalities were rising.

This column has been both active and outspoken and, at times, at odds with the medical profession on this subject, mainly because its author was diagnosed with the disease seven years ago and, having become involved in fund-raising and research, I have met many men who were either diagnosed late or have not had their cancers well managed.

Prostate cancer is now the third largest killer behind lung and bowel cancer, but while those two kill both men and women indiscriminately, prostate cancer is confined entirely to men.

Women have been hugely successful in improving outcomes for those diagnosed with breast cancer because women are better and far more sensible when it comes to health issues. They are far more open to talking about health and are more likely to seek medical advice if they are worried about something, while men often prefer the more indirect route to the doctor which frequently involves a lot of pretending nothing is wrong and finding patches of sand in which to stick their heads.

It is women who have driven the research and have raised the funds to find the best diagnostic tools and the best treatments for themselves and for future generations of women. It is no coincidence that prostate cancer research receives half the investment and sees less than half the research carried out in comparison to breast cancer.

Men don’t know about prostate cancer because they don’t want to know. You try to talk to a man about anything which goes on down there and they just cross their legs and squirm a lot. My brothers who, theoretically, are more likely to develop prostate cancer because one of their siblings had it, did not want to hear about getting tested and nor did anyone else I spoke to. They all said they would rather not know.

Men are wimps and it is killing us. Women have babies which is a process that exposes them literally to all manner of indignities and being probed and pulled about in the most intimate regions by legions of midwives and doctors, but it leaves them with a sensible attitude to what must be endured in the cause of good health.

Men can’t cope with that sort of thing, it terrifies them to the point they would rather ignore obvious symptoms if it means avoiding being examined below the belt.

Well, brothers, let me tell you that after a few months of chasing what

everyone suspects to be a cancer growing down there when yet another urologist says: “Mr. Nicholls, do you mind if we just …?” The answer is always: “No, I don’t mind, you just get on with it.” Dignity and discomfort are a small ransom to be paid in exchange for your life.

Chaps, we need to learn from our wives, sisters and daughters and take this male cancer head on and defeat it. While our women are out running in pink we need to be running alongside them in blue, raising funds and demanding a proper diagnostic test instead of the hit and miss PSA blood test and inconclusive biopsies (I had two which came back negative).

How can we still be in a situation where there is no universal screening program because there is still no foolproof test? Our women would not stand for such a situation.

The medical profession is a poor ally to men in this fight. The attitude that it is mainly older men who are affected and that some prostate cancers are slow growing has led to the view often expressed that most men do not die of prostate cancer but die with it. In other words, they die of something else as if that’s OK then.

Well, it isn’t OK because the statistics are proving the lie. Men are dying in increasing numbers and only men can reverse the trend.

I WATCHED something the other day about the growing conflict between river anglers and canoeists.

I don’t get it. Fishermen want to use our rivers and so do canoeists and there doesn’t need to be any tension or dispute between the two groups as long as their claims are fair and equal, but that will only happen when both groups pay for access to the water.

Anglers pay twice for the right to try and catch fish. They have to have a licence even to take a rod near the water, then they have to pay for access to a particular stretch of the river. Fishing without either a licence or permission are both breaches of the law and yet in many areas canoeists can put their oversize plastic ducks on the river with impunity and they are vociferous in their claim that it is their right to do so.

Canoeists are just cyclists who take to the water. The attitudes appear to be the same. They want access to anywhere they want, no matter what effect it might have other road or, in this case, river users.

They don’t just want access, they demand it, but they don’t want to pay for the privilege because to those who monopolise the roads with their cycles or canoe the rivers don’t regard it as a privilege, they just see it as their right.

This a national trend in many areas of life. Powerful lobbies and pressure groups want special status but expect everyone else to pay for them to achieve it. In towns and cities all over the country cyclists are demanding massive redevelopment of traffic systems to produce specialist cycle routes which will be paid for by other road users. It is about rights but expecting someone else to take the responsibilities.

Canoeists have the same attitude and eventually they will succeed and anglers who pay to fish will have to give way because the canoeists will have the health lobbyists and the outdoor pursuits lobby and the freedom of access lobby and the save the trout lobby on their side while the anglers will just have common sense and the tradition of protecting our rivers on theirs.

IN case it has escaped your notice, this week is the centenary of the first, though not all, women winning the right to vote. It is a milestone in the long struggle for democracy and equal representation which should be marked.

The granting of the right of women to vote was the last and perhaps the greatest struggle in a century in which those with power had fought tooth and nail to resist sharing that access to democracy with those they considered unfitted or unworthy of it.

The 19th Century was one long struggle by ordinary people for what we now take for granted and the establishment gave way only very slowly and reluctantly, taking in small sections of the working classes at a time and using the full and often violent power of the state against those who protested at being ignored and left out.

Men and women were cut down by the sabres of soldiers for holding a peaceful meeting at St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, the Peterloo Massacre, and farm workers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who dared to meet to discuss forming a union, were transported to Australia as convicts.

Yet even in the 20th Century the British state, or at least those who ran it, were still prepared to torture respectable women by force-feeding them in prison when they went on hunger strike. And when that proved too much for the British public to stomach they allowed those women to starve themselves almost to death before releasing them only to rearrest them when they were sufficiently recovered to start the whole process over again.

That was the infamous and despicable Cat and Mouse Act which demonstrated that those in Parliament were prepared to put their minds to inventing laws to keep women from sharing the right to vote when the simple thing to do was to make a law to allow them to do so.

Politicians never wanted democracy. It made them uncomfortable and I think in many cases it still does.

What we should remember this week and always is the struggle our forefathers and mothers went through to gain their rights and the vote and never to take either for granted.

What those wonderful, courageous women achieved they achieved for all of us. They showed that Parliament is not the sovereign power in this land, but it is the people who are sovereign and Parliament is our servant and we, and they, should never forget it.