One thing i really try to avoid in this male cancer charity circus is conferences or black tie balls. Two reasons, one i am shy and two i feel guilty that some one is some were shitting them self on chemo and i am eating posh food and drinking champers. Silly of me yes but can’t change how i feel. Patrick Cox who started the “Male cancer awareness campaign rang me to say he was sorting a weekend in Belfast as they have had a zero death rate in Northern Ireland last year for testicular cancer. It would be a dinner and a walk through Belfast and all the major testicular cancer charities would be there. Myself and Pat have been on each others radar for a good 6 years. I think he started about the same time as me, maybe the year before? ,,, does it matter? rambling away!, BUT he said would i like to come along and bring a few of the checkemlads survivors. I said yes or course but put the phone down and hoped he would forgot he rang me. He works so hard at cancer awareness and has always been supportive of me but i really do hate conferences and functions. Maybe its because i am a cancer survivor and maybe its because if people come and talk to me about what they do with their charities and talk figures and money i would not have a clue what to say back.Banks talk about money, not cancer survivors, banks talk about targets, not cancer survivors, it bores me to tears. I was a soldier, did crap at school and know very few long words. I do what i do how i know best, just get stuck in and get results, the army makes you like that. Very few words but loads of go.
Not long after Pat came to see me in Heswall were i was working to talk about what he had planned. So we had some dinner and the poor lad had to listen to my crap for an hour or two but he convinced me to come along and bring some lads with me. Yes, for Northern Ireland to be told well done for zero deaths from all the charities and survivors is a worth while thing to do and why not raise some awareness while we are there?… SOLD.
I flew to Belfast the and landed in a place i had only ever known as a young soldier, i did foot patrols there in the very early 90′s and all the crap that came with it and as i got off the easyjet plane in the airport two army helicopters flew over head and landed over at the army side of the airport which brought it all back and as i walked towards the airport door i could not help but think i really really should not have come here. As i waited for my bag on the carousel i was looking over both shoulders and checking people out. This was me in 1992 on the falls road (on the left)
I gave my head a shake and started to mumble to myself “behave your self”. Those few moment were confusing to say the least. Pat said there would be some one there to meet me at the airport but i forgot to ask who so i walked out of the gate to be met by a wonderful model called Laura Lacole holding sign with Philly on it in big letters!. i look round to see if any other people were heading her way and to my surprise it really was me she was looking for, GOOD START i thought to myself and she and her friend drove me to Belfast, we did a radio interview on route and i finally got to the Hilton a few hours later on Belfast water front. I think Laura actually knew i was nervous being back there and sort of spent time reassuring me about Belfast She was a wonderful start to the weekend. Thanks Laura x
I was met at the door by some of the other charities from the USA , i know a few of them such as Mike Caycraft who came to the survivors trek in wales and was wonderful to see him. Andy Anderson was there and also a very dear friend Ali Shaw who are both survivors and support checkemlads. Richard clarke who is a footballer and recent survivor also came down and i had my little team of checkemladers there with me which made me even more happy to be there.
(L to R) Me!! Ali Shaw and Andy Anderson, some of the checkemlads survivors.
We all got checked in and set off for the night dinner at a local place hosted by Patrick. It was wonderful to actually meet other people who do what i do and before long i felt a bit easier about talking about cancer over a dinner plate, hear what they were doing, and i actually started to think that this stuff aint to bad really. Pat gave a wonderful speech and mentioned me and the team of checkemlads survivors as people who have made a big difference to the cancer community and awareness and pointed out that we have do wonders for support and getting survivors together as one bunch, I did not know were to look as everyone turned and looked at me so i poked my uneaten burger with a folk and looked up slightly to see if the cost was clear. For Pat to say such a thing is an honor, this man is one of the most respected advocates in the world but it was nice to know that he likes what we do.
We had a good night, some drinks and i chatted to some of the other charity folk, i even shown a bit of interest when figures. targets and strategies were mentioned by the american charities (they love all that) and i just knoded and pretend to know what they were on about, but when one of them asked me what my strategics were for the coming year i think my answer of ” i da know mate” killed the conversation rather quick.
Got back to the hotel a bit wellied and fell asleep after Skyeping my Laura and watching 5 mins of downton abbey!
Day two would start with breakfast and get out walking gear on for a ten mile (turned out to be 13) trek from “nuts corner” in the hills to Belfast city center carrying but card board cut outs of Mr Testicles which is Pats mascot and logo for his charity. We all jumped on the bus and headed off through the rain and snow to the start point. There was a massive turn out at the start. Young Laura the model was there with all her mates. loads of local survivors and radio, press and TV. Pat got us all hyped up and off we went. Myself and Richard Clarke took to the front .
It was a long first 5 miles. and the snow blizzard hit us at the top of the hills. Pat have me a right bollocking for walking to far ahead and for being in army speed march mode. SORRY PAT!.
i Chatted with young Robin from the RCT charity which was set up in his brothers name after he sadly died and go so carried away with our conversation that the rest all went down another road and left us two marching off alone. Two police women came flying up the road in a police car to tell us “our mates had gone the other way with out us” all 120 of them! so we had to run back up the hill and down the other road to catch them up.
By the time we got to them we were in Belfast and the locals were all beeping and cheering and waving at us. It was brilliant, 120 giant testicles marching through Belfast towards the center. By this time we were all cold and wet but loving every second of it.
The taxi drivers were beeping . the locals were cheering and as i walked past some of the places that i used to get bricks chucked at me and spat at it was such a good feeling to be there in peacetime and getting rid of my demons.
Before long we were in the city center and all the shoppers stood at the side of the road clapping us and cheering. We got to the town hall and even though we were cold, tired and wet the energy and magic had took over us. It was very up lifting. we were there to say well done to northern Ireland for leading the way in zero deaths for testicular cancer so we shouted as hard as we could.
We made a noise and that was that. job done and back to the hotel for medals and thank you’s (which i could not go to due to a minor fuck up) But the other checkemlads survivors got there.
It was a brilliant day, fun. wild and mental. We finished off with the charities having dinner and Pat doing a speech
The night was made even better by getting a big donation for checkemlads from Richard Clarke and his mates who played a football match for us (he is a pro player)
So my mind had been changed about charity meet ups, but only for the right reason such as zero deaths and so on, yes i need to get off my soap box and relax a touch about it all but what Pat did that day to say well done to the place and to bring many charities together is with out doubt one of the best days of my life, and with out doubt the best event for testicular cancer i have ever. I am a survivor of cancer and for Pat and the whole bunch of you to take time to do what you do to make more survivors and stop needless death means allot to us checkemlads cancer survivors. Thanks Pat , you did great, you made me change my mind about charity events, you got rid of my demons from my days there as a soldier and most importantly you made Belfast come out and celebrate survival all in one go.
It will probably now be copied by many but none will come close to the meaning and the day we stopped Belfast in its tracks