Shropshire Star

Rugby pundit Ugo Monye: I was scared to get checked out for prostate cancer

The former England rugby player and TV broadcaster is fronting a new campaign following his father’s death from the disease.

Rugby pundit Ugo Monye (GenesisCare/PA)

TV and radio sports presenter and former England rugby union player Ugo Monye was just about to start Strictly Come Dancing in 2021 when he lost his father to prostate cancer.

“I had no idea until then that black men are more than twice as likely to get the disease than other men. That’s a pretty scary statistic,” recalls the sports pundit, who retired from professional rugby in 2015 and now covers rugby for TNT Sports and a co-hosts a Rugby Union Weekly podcast for the BBC.

It was a late diagnosis. Theophilus Monye, 82, had returned to Nigeria after separating from his wife years before, and had had various health issues, but his son was disappointed to discover a week after his father died that prostate cancer had taken him.

“It’s an illustration of just not knowing what he was dealing with and how us men often leave things until it’s quite simply too late. It’s frustrating, because prostate cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if caught early.”

Monye, 41, is now fronting Know Your Roots, a prostate cancer awareness campaign with specialist cancer care provider GenesisCare, encouraging men to be proactive in seeking early diagnosis, even though there may be no symptoms, and prompting people to find out more about their family medical history.

Research commissioned by the cancer care provider shows that three in four men are not aware that a family history of prostate cancer or breast cancer increases their chance of getting the disease, while 84% of men aren’t aware if their parents have ever experienced either of these diseases.

Yet, after his father’s death, Monye didn’t visit his GP for a prostate check-up for months, he admits.

“After my dad passed away, I was scared to get checked. It was the fear of the unknown. I was also worried about hearing bad news, which is the total opposite of what you should do, because if there is something that needs to be dealt with, you need to know about it early.”

It had been a traumatic time for the genial broadcaster, who separated from his wife Lucy, with whom he has two daughters, Phoenix, seven, and four-year-old Ruby, the same year as his father died. How did he cope?

“Thankfully, I was really busy. Everyone uses different methods, whether consciously or subconsciously, to distract themselves from how they are truly feeling.

“It was Covid times, I watched my dad’s funeral online on Zoom three hours before the first live Strictly show, which is not normal under any circumstances.

“I wanted to keep myself busy. I felt like if I was that hamster on the wheel, when I just had things occupying me and my mind, that was good. I don’t know how I would have felt or what I would have done had I just been on my own with nothing to do. It was a really challenging year.”

He investigated his family tree to see if there had been a history of prostate cancer – there wasn’t. When he finally went to his GP for a check-up, everything was fine, but he’s aware that he needs to do it every few years.

This isn’t the first time Monye has supported a cancer awareness initiative. He recalls taking part in ITV’s The Real Full Monty with the late Tom Parker from The Wanted in 2018 to raise cancer awareness in men and learned a lot from that, he recalls.

“Tom died a couple of years after that from terminal cancer (he had a brain tumour) but I learned loads on that show about prostate cancer and how black men are more susceptible to getting it, especially after the age of 45.”

Men, he says, tend to be far more in tune with how they look externally rather than spending time on their internal health.

“Aesthetically, we’re way more in tune, we go to the gym, get a six-pack, build muscle, get fit. We commit our time and energy to it entirely. But we are far more blasé with our internal health and I don’t know why.”

He understands that some men might feel uncomfortable about visiting the GP about their prostate.

“It’s an intimate area, isn’t it? There’s a stigma around checking yourself. But the whole process is really simple and easy. My call to action for anyone is that if you’re black and over 40, ring your GP, go on to GenesisCare’s website, and if you have any questions you can have them answered.

“There are 10,000 men a year with no symptoms who get diagnosed. No-one should be complacent about their health.”

He does as much as he can to take care of his wellbeing, exercising in the gym almost every day.

“In my first career the reason was very different. I needed to stay fit. Now, I just want to be functionally fit for my kids. I’m not here to smash world records and set PBs. I just train to be healthy.”

The work continues. The revamped A Question Of Sport, in which he was a team captain, was shelved last year, but in July he’ll be covering the Rugby Sevens for the first time at the Olympics, which he says he’s excited about.

Beyond his working life, it’s clear that Monye still misses his father.

“I see a lot of my personality in my dad, to the point where I’m a massive Arsenal fan for a number of reasons: I was born in Islington, secondly I really like Ian Wright, and thirdly because my dad supported Tottenham.

“I was close to my dad and later in life, as close as I could be without seeing him.”

Ugo Monye is fronting the new GenesisCare Know Your Roots campaign. For more information on prostate cancer symptoms and treatment options, visit GenesisCare.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.