Not long ago I met a woman whose husband had passed from un-diagnosed prostate cancer. By the time he gave in (due to significant pain), he discovered both the cause and the fact that he was now facing an aggressive case of stage 4 metastasized prostate cancer. Extensive testing showed his body had been totally impacted by the cancer. Within 6 weeks of this diagnosis, the disease took his life.
How ignoring personal health can affect family
She told me that while her husband’s death was unfortunate, it was also unnecessary. There was every indication that he ignored pain and symptoms for years and had it been caught earlier, the cancer could have been treated.
She went on to say, “men simply don't realize the emotional impact and stress they put on a family when they ignore their personal health. Children lose fathers, while partners lose the emotional support of a life mate.” She went on to note that the loss of a partner can often create a significant financial burden, not only from the loss of income but also the comfort of sharing the burden of managing family affairs and assets.
The risks in avoiding doctor visits
Just recently, Brian, a member of our church group, was complaining about ongoing ear pain. Several of us suggested that a visit to an MD might be in order. Brian politely agreed but never followed up and when pressed said, “I do not like to meet guys with needles and sharp scalpels.”
Brian, like so many men, fell into the category of men who believe any excuse is a good excuse to avoid a doctor visit. Being single, he had no one at home to encourage him, and like most men he was confident the issue would go away. A few weeks later, we learned he was in the hospital being treating for an infection that had spread from his ear canal into the brain. Unfortunately, the spread soon proved to be fatal.
Thinking it's the "good cancer"
I often run into men attending our local prostate cancer support group meetings who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but for reasons known only to them, choose to ignore the situation. While a number of these men initially refuse to be treated due to concerns over erections, others see no need for ongoing monitoring program such as active surveillance or watchful waiting.
The reasons given are often based on a belief that ignoring prostate cancer is ok since it is the good cancer men live with and then die from something else. Not surprising when we see these men back in our meetings a few years later when they are fighting an advanced stage of the disease.
Talking about health in the third person
While my initial reaction was always to be proactive in encouraging men to be engaged in their health, I now question the value of offering suggestions unless asked. The best approach so far appears to be to simply provide information about the disease, lay out the possible outcomes of various actions, and then stop talking. Often it is that silent period when a lot of thinking and reconsidering occurs.
These days, rather than speaking directly with men about personal health, I have found it to be very effective to discuss the importance of male personal health in the third person. By creating some “space” between the message and the receiver, this type of conversation appears to be less threatening for many men. When speaking with a couple, for example, I address most of my comments to the spouse, who often will begin to express concerns over the partner ignoring routine check-ups.
While the approach does not work 100% of the time (what in life does?), it can often be the start of a new conversation between a partner and a very reluctant patient.
Tell us in the comments: how do you talk to other men about personal health?
Were you aware of family history of cancer, prior to diagnosis?