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Friends unite to conquer cancer

BEHIND THE CAUSE: Courtney Pine

A LASTING friendship between a top cancer consultant and a leading musician is helping to deliver a message that could be a lifesaver for thousands of men diagnosed each year with prostate cancer.

Alarmingly, the disease – the most common cancer in men – is twice as common in men of African origin, who once diagnosed, are often twice as likely to die from it.

And this is where cancer specialist Professor Nick James and drummer John Hoo have joined forces – to highlight these facts to make men sit up and do something about it.

It’s more than three years since John Hoo, who goes by the stage name Johnny Hoo, first met Prof James when he became his patient at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital following a prostate cancer diagnosis.

The men struck a chord with each other, which led them to launch an innovative awareness raising campaign using music as a medium to highlight a life saving message.

Their work together began back in November 2013 when Hoo organised a jazz concert at the University of Birmingham gathering together one of Britain’s most celebrated jazz artists Courtney Pine with local musicians. It was also supported by Prostate Cancer UK and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s own charity.

“We raised more than £4,000 and it was a thank you to my health team for their continuing support and care,” explained Hoo, who was a drummer with Andy Hamilton, the legendary saxophonist, of Andy Hamilton and the Blue Notes fame, who died in 2012 at the age of 94.

“This made us realise how effective music was in conveying the message within the black community to be aware of prostate cancer, while also educating the health services about specific cultural and social barriers.

“We also realised that that this would benefit all men because the profile of prostate cancer through music would have a greater impact.”

So they launched a groundbreaking project in the shape of an educational CD with the theme: ‘Prostate Cancer: It’s a Man Thing.’

Using reggae and bhangra music, it featured artists such as Wayne Irie, Mendi Mohinder Singh and Ash Kumar, along with a voice-over from Prof James urging high risk groups to talk about any concerns with health professionals and get checked out.


DUO: Professor Nick James, left, with John Hoo

This is now being followed up with a ‘Man Van’ project – a mobile prostate cancer screening unit which will include the latest high-tech scanning equipment to tour workplaces, factories and even football grounds.

The team has just held a fourth concert – this time at Birmingham’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, where Pine again topped the bill, bringing with him his daughter who was celebrating her 21st birthday.

Pine said: “Johnny is an amazing person – there are not many people who can bring musicians together for a cause like this in the way he can.”

Other musicians included the Notebenders; Jim Barber; Tim & Aidan Amann; Roy Forbes; Adrian Gibson; Andy Gayle; Captain; Fitzroy Coward; Bob Singh; Mendi Mohinder Singh; Wayne Scott and Julius Fu.

Prof James, who was a guest speaker at the event, told of how 10,000 men a year die of prostate cancer in the UK, making it the biggest killer of men in this country.

“Men of African origin are twice as likely to get it and twice as likely to die from it,” said the Professor who is director of the Cancer Research Unit at the University of Warwick and a consultant in clinical oncology at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

“A lot of this is down to a delayed presentation so this is why events like this are so important. We need to get the message out that you can change your own outcomes by your own behaviour.”

He spoke of the STAMPEDE clinical trial, of which he is chief investigator; this has shown that adding chemotherapy earlier and combining it with hormone therapy treatment is significantly improving overall survival rates of prostate cancer patients.

He praised companies such as National Express, the union Unite and the charity Tackle Prostate Cancer for supporting the fundraising projects.

The event raised well over £3,000, some of which will go towards setting up a ‘Man Van’ for the West Midlands.

Meanwhile Prof James is planning his second outdoor music festival at his home in June to help boost the fund raising campaign.

Hoo added: “I feel so glad to have a friend like Nick James, regardless of the circumstances in which we met. A good friendship lasts forever.”

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