Real Men, Real Talk: The importance of early testing when 'something's not right'

Dubai cancer survivors' group urges men to start talking about their health

Panel moderator Flo Akinbiyi, left, pictured with Brian de Francesca, , Guido De Wilde, Jonathon Leonard, and Adrian Topp who took part in the panel discussion titled ‘Real Men, Real Talk: cancer happens, what’s next?’ held at Al Jalila Foundation in Dubai.  Al Jalila Foundation.
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When Brian de Francesca was hired to build a cancer hospital in Dubai, little did he know that he would soon be diagnosed with the disease.

His diagnosis would have been delayed had it not been for the intervention of his wife, who “dragged” him to the hospital for a check-up.

Mr de Francesca, 60, who is the director of hospital operations at Al Jalila Foundation, was responsible for the planning, design, construction and operation of the Hamdan Bin Rashid Charity Cancer hospital.

He's now part of a group of cancer survivors who are urging other men to talk about their health and get tested regularly, particularly when they reach a certain age, or if they “feel something isn’t right”.

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If we speak about cancer, maybe people will be inspired and go for the exam they have been avoiding
Jonathon Leonard, cancer survivor

During a panel discussion titled ‘Real Men, Real Talk: cancer happens, what’s next?’ held at Al Jalila Foundation in Dubai, they talked about the importance of men’s health, shared their healing journeys and how they managed to stay positive.

“In June this year, my wife Nadine, dragged me into the hospital for an executive health check-up. I soon learnt that I had prostate cancer,” Mr de Francesca told The National.

“Before the test, I felt it was a waste of time because I was healthy and very fit. Now I’m building a hospital that I might one day be a patient in.”

He went through treatment and had his entire prostrate removed on July 5 this year, but doctors found that cancer had spread to some lymph nodes and a seminal vesicle — which were also removed.

“I will start radiation and hormone therapy in January once I am fully recovered from the surgery. I am positive and optimistic that my future is long and bright.

“We had caught cancer early enough to do something about it.”

Brian de Francesca, diagnosed with prostate cancer, at the Al Jalila Foundation panel discussion.  Photo: Al Jalila Foundation

Belgian Guido De Wilde, 64, who has worked in the hospitality industry for 40 years, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer which had spread to the liver, but is now fully recovered and has been a strong supporter of Al Jalila Foundation for many years.

He cycled from Brussels to Bergamo and raised Dh370,000 for the Al Jalila Foundation in the process.

“I had a 10-hour surgery removing part of the liver and 45cm of the sigmoid colon. The surgery was followed by five months of chemotherapy with 12 chemo sessions,” said Mr Guido.

“My main priority in life is to stay healthy and take care of myself followed by sharing my experience and raising funds for Al Jalila Foundation. Cancer patients shouldn’t give up hope.”

For Jonathon Leonard, who has been in Dubai for 20 years, his diagnosis of cancer made him a keen supporter of men’s early detection and men’s mental health through non-profit support groups in Dubai.

“Two years ago I was diagnosed with male breast cancer and underwent a journey of diagnoses, scans, surgical intervention and post-treatment therapy,” Mr Leonard said.

“We hear that breast cancer happens to women not men but it does and we need to raise awareness.

“If we speak about cancer, maybe people will be inspired and go for the exam they have been avoiding.”

Adrian Topp, a 56-year-old Briton who has worked in the telecoms industry for 35 years, was diagnosed with Lymphoma Type B-Cell, Stage II, in November 2019.

He has lived with his family in Dubai for just over seven years and he is an active cyclist since he recovered from cancer.

“After not feeling well for a few weeks, my wife noticed my face was quite swollen. The next day the swelling was worse and she noticed my ears had gone blue,” Adrian said.

After an Ultrasound and CT Scan the initial diagnosis was a blood clot in my neck, which was cutting off the blood supply to Adrian’s brain and could have caused a stroke.

“The scans and tests told me I had cancer. Thank God it is treatable with chemotherapy throughout six cycles.”

In the UAE, approximately 4,500 new cases of cancer are reported in a year and it is the third leading cause of death, according to Al Jalila Foundation.

Updated: November 28, 2022, 7:02 AM