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Check up or check out

MANY STEREOTYPES have a basis in fact. According to health authorities, the traditional wisdom that Australian men don’t like to open up about their personal problems is accurate.

The growing awareness of men’s health issues has served to break some of that silence, as blokes find support when they can talk with others who have ‘been there and done that’.

Yet the big killers are still hiding in the quiet.

Cancer Research UK has found that only 52% of men who found blood in their stool would immediately go to a doctor to have this symptom of bowel cancer investigated. Reasons for the delay vary from embarrassment in younger males to fear of the outcome of investigations in older males.

Gary Whittaker, a Brisbane General Practitioner, agrees with the research.

“There is no doubt that the prevailing view amongst men in general is that we should be as self-sufficient as possible, and only if there is an unavoidable reason to seek the help of others, do we then present our problems to others. This is fine if you are trying to put a car engine back together,” he said.

“That little irregular black mole on your leg may give you no pain or discomfort, but it will surely be life threatening if it is indeed a melanoma, and you do nothing about it till too late.”

Central Queensland Cancer Support Coordinator Caroline Humphreys confirmed the need for a change of habit.
“There are certainly challenges in engaging men in help-seeking behaviours,” she said.

Prostate cancer incidence is almost as high as colorectal, lung cancers and melanomas (in men) combined.

Support groups surrounding prostate cancer have proven valuable in breaking down some of the taboos, according to Ms Humphreys.

“Men describe their comfort in discussing issues such as sexual dysfunction, incontinence and the effects of hormone treatments with others who have had the experience already and have developed coping mechanisms.

“A group environment provides the opportunity for a greater amount of information to be shared and for men to find something valuable amongst the experience of others.”

Being in a group can be reassuring as individuals hear how similar others’ experience may be to their own. This adds to the sense of not being alone.

“I think also that men are getting more acquainted with the benefit of having a best mate as a sounding board,” said Dr Whittaker.

“For many men, they often have fantastic wives who are as supportive as they can be but there is no doubt that psychologically men differ from women in how they cognitively and emotionally process things.”

Local churches sponsoring such groups often develop a powerful ministry.

“They are marvellously placed to be supportive at multiple levels for a man who is seriously ill,” said Dr Whittaker.

“Other men can help out with the practical physical jobs around the sufferer’s house if need be, his fellow worshippers certainly can be an ear for anything he wishes to share and provide the bucking up of his spirits if getting low.

“Then there is the whole faith underpinning which the church offers – sensitive handling of the ‘why me?’ question will be invaluable in the ill man’s capacity to eventually accept and move on knowing that he will now view life through a changed perspective; and for one who has faith in the life to come, all is not bleak – a tremendously fortuitous position to be in compared to the atheist.

“So the holistic approach from the church has enormous potential to enrich and uplift those who find themselves in serious ill health.”