My first experience of prostate cancer was during the '90s in a Glasgow city hospital. I was a young and still wet behind the ears nurse from Essex, doing my training, working a tough male ward. I should have been ripped to shreds, but these men took me under their wing. Through them, I learned a lot about resilience, isolation, friendship - a whole new vocabulary of swear words...
Back then, treatment for prostate cancer was poor at best. Yet, the camaraderie of these men - some in quite hopeless situations - was absolute. They were in it together. Until they weren't (that was their line).
A lot has changed in the interim. Treatments for prostate cancer have improved since those dark days, and awareness has risen. But we still have a hell of a long way to go, 10,500 men still die each year from prostate cancer, and it's estimated that over 300,000 men are living with the disease. You and I both know that charities are great at churning out stats, but with one in eight men (and an astonishing one in four black men) affected by prostate cancer in their lifetime, these numbers quickly become brothers, best mates, uncles, grandfathers, and even sons.
As Chief Executive of Prostate Cancer UK, I'm happy to ruffle a few feathers and take approaches not usually associated with charities if it means saving men's lives. Fly-pasting posters in GP waiting rooms won't always work for our audience. If they've made it that far, they're probably going to make it the nine yards to the doctor's room, and don't need a prod from us. So to speak.
We need to get to all men, not just those who are already looking after themselves. The armchair warriors, the Sunday League five-a-siders, the propping-up-the-bar merchants, the Call of Duty 10-hours-straight gamers, and the 'I'll do it tomorrow' brigade. These guys need to get to grips with their own health, learn more about prostate cancer and help themselves.
So we've purposefully become masters at taking the message out to men in the environments they feel at home in. We're two years into a three year partnership with The Football League and have had grounds up and down the country working with their fans and supporters to raise awareness of prostate cancer, and help generate funding for the research needed to crack this disease. We even launched our own pop-up pub, the Men United Arms. And now we have our sights on friendship.
In 2014 we launched Men United, our movement for men to come together and help beat prostate cancer. The idea was to build an army, a groundswell of support, so that when I take the fight to the governments of all four UK nations , I know I have battalions of people behind me, all fired up about the state of men's health and determined to see change.
We have over 200 000 people who have joined Men United so far. The support for the campaign has been magnificent, with everyone from soap stars to MPs and lawyers to cabbies coming together, and swelling the numbers countrywide. This January we launched the latest iteration of Men United: Keeping Friendships Alive from the first Men United Arms, (the pub formally known as The Anchor, on London's South Bank). The gist of it? Everything's better done with your mates.
In many ways, this campaign is nothing new; Prostate Cancer UK has brought friends together for years. Check out our Twitter feed and you'll see guys coming together for us through fundraising challenges, volunteering at events and campaigning to shout down bad decisions. The £14million raised last year is a testament to a network of friendships fizzing into life across the UK and uniting to sponsor and get stuck in with everything from abseils and pub quizzes, to hikes and car rallies.
So we're asking men to get together with their friends more, because we know it helps. We know it helps not only bring prostate cancer out into the open, but raises funds for the research to break through the current barriers hampering treatment and diagnosis.
And, it is not all about us. Men are telling us that their friendships are important to them. Yet, they see less of them as they get older. Men United offers the perfect excuse to pick up the phone to that mate you have been meaning to call, to do something great together, and to do it for Men United. With this campaign everybody wins.
Sign up at menunited.prostatecanceruk.org