Are men really ostriches?
Tuesday 15 June 2021
Matt Wiltshire, 54, from Surrey, was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2015. He set up a charity, The Cancer Club, to support men with advanced cancer to meet others and share experiences through sport.
All the anecdotal evidence would suggest we are not the best when it comes to discussing our health problems, or expressing our feelings. There is no doubt men of my generation have been brought up to conform to a certain set of behaviours; to provide, to solve problems, to be strong, and to never show vulnerability or weakness. We tend to think we are invincible.
What is interesting is to understand whether this behaviour has an adverse affect on our health outcomes? My own story led me to do a little research around this, and the reality is unsurprising.
I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2015 aged 48. You can read a little more about my journey here. As I was navigating through the horrific prognosis and subsequent rollercoaster of a journey, one thing became apparent; it was very difficult to find any men of a similar age, in a similar boat. I went on the forums, was active on social media, but a male presence was limited. Once I did get to meet and talk to other guys (discovered through my wife’s network of course), it was a liberating experience. Talking to someone that totally ‘gets it’ is incredibly comforting.
And so started a mission to try and raise awareness of men with cancer, and an attempt to draw out some of these men and get them talking to each other, to hopefully provide some much needed support. This started with a website and social media activity under the pseudonym BowelBloke.
It helped; I got to know a broader community, raise some money for good causes, and actually got to meet some real people. It’s been really satisfying but I wanted to do more.
The idea I wanted to pursue was to really help men living with advanced stage cancer. Something practical, tangible. But how? What do many men have in common, and are comfortable chatting about? For me, that thing is sport. The amount of times I’ve been in a room of strangers (think stuffy corporate networking event) and often the ice-breaker, and subsequent topic of conversation revolves around a sporting event. And so The Cancer Club was born; a charity to add a bit of joy to the lives of men living with incurable cancer by getting them together at sporting events, supported by an on online community to provide emotional support when required.
I did the research, and as I mentioned earlier, not unsurprisingly, the facts back up the anecdotes: men die earlier from cancer; men suffer more mental illness; men are more isolated. We don’t go to the doctors, we don’t seek help from therapy. You know the suicide rates. The list goes on.
By March 2020, I was ready to go. And then a pandemic happened. Possibly the wrong time to launch a charity taking vulnerable men to sporting events!
In a way the lockdown has helped, it’s allowed me the time to get it right. We managed to ‘soft’ launch in May 2021 and so the journey has begun. We have a long way to go, and lots to do to improve things. We have some beneficiaries on board, some local sports clubs providing their venues, and some generous people raising money for us. We also have some incredibly kind people volunteering to help build the charity. But we are always looking for more.
Ultimately I would love to build a community that supports each other on a local and a national level, bringing men together at great sporting venues, and via online platforms
For now, if we can bring some joy, laughter and a feeling of improved well-being to just one person, I will be happy.
Details can be found at www.thecancerclub.co.uk