September is the designated month for promoting prostate cancer awareness. Well and good. I’m all for it, but it has a bit of a negative ring. Why not put a positive spin on the prostate? Let’s celebrate the little guy. Why not let October be our Prostate Appreciation Month? Doesn’t that sound more cheerful?
Here’s why I think it could help.
Despite living through many Septembers prior to my prostate cancer diagnosis in 2010, I remained unaware of it. Worse yet, I was blissfully and completely ignorant about the prostate itself. If you had offered me a free Disney Cruise I could not have told you where the prostate was, what it did, or why I should care.
At age 60 I was still prostate stupid.
Of course, that all changed when I was diagnosed at the end of 2010. Virtually overnight I learned all about the prostate. Like many other men, I became a self-educated pseudo-expert on the subject. Not because of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, but because it suddenly became very personal.
I am a natural skeptic, and as such I wonder how many healthy men wake up one September morning saying, “Huh. Prostate Cancer, you say? Maybe I should be aware of that.” I just don’t believe it usually works that way. My guess is that Prostate Cancer Awareness Month is mostly noticed by men like me who have already had a nasty brush with their little walnut-sized friend, while others are less moved, if at all.
Is it personal?
It’s a bit like preaching to the choir. Men who are not in the choir will become aware of prostate cancer if and when it knocks on their door, and probably not before then. But I guarantee it will grab their attention immediately when it becomes personal.
Some of us feel anger, sadness, or fear. My reaction was mostly one of surprise and bewilderment.
When it does, we can have a variety of reactions. Some of us feel anger, sadness, or fear. My reaction was mostly one of surprise and bewilderment. My prostate? My prostate? Cancer? Are you kidding me? I need to do what? Or else what? Really?
It had my attention and I was aware.
We want men to know about prostate cancer, how to detect it, and how to treat it. But does Prostate Cancer Awareness month help? For a broader perspective, let’s have a look at something similar. Let’s consider appendix disease awareness.
My appendix? Even now at age 69 my knowledge about this small bit of my body is seriously lacking. I know it’s in there somewhere, and I think it has something to do with digestion. On the other hand, a lot of people seem to do fine without it so it can’t be that important, right?
And that, my friends, is all I know about the appendix.
My little sister knows more. She became aware of it early this week when it became personal, causing some serious trouble. She now knows first-hand the pain it can deliver, and she’s learned what it takes to get rid of it. I’m willing to bet little sis now appreciates all those decades of living with no appendix awareness whatsoever and will soon gladly return to her former frame of mind.
Likewise, a friend of mine who had already conquered prostate cancer with proton therapy suddenly found himself hospitalized with appendix issues. Despite being a highly analytical detail-oriented guy, in our many conversations about our prostates and general health he never once mentioned his appendix, which wasn’t surprising. It wasn’t relevant, wasn’t personal, and was nowhere on his or my radar. Now he’s not only a prostate expert, but also an appendix authority.
Would an Appendix Disease Awareness month have made my sister or my friend more knowledgeable about this troublesome little piece of their digestive system prior to their personal encounters? You never know, but probably not likely. It just would not have seemed relevant.
It may sound like I’m against Prostate Cancer Awareness month, but I’m not. I just don’t think it’s likely to be very effective, despite all the helpful press and hoopla.
Yet we prostate cancer survivors feel an urgent need to warn others, to make them aware of the importance of early detection, and to save them from the often-avoidable complications. So we shout loudly each September, “HEY, GUYS!!! Get tested! Get a PSA test! Get a DRE! Do it now! Don’t wait!”
… we prostate cancer survivors feel an urgent need to warn others, to make them aware of the importance of early detection …
But our shouting is drowned out by others who are shouting equally loudly about what’s personal to them. Healthline.com lists thirty-six official health awareness topics for September alone. That’s right, there are already three dozen designated health issues to compete with prostate cancer for awareness in September! We have our work cut out for us.
Each September we are reminded to be aware of blood cancer, childhood cancer, ovarian cancer, sepsis, sexual health, yoga, sports eye, suicide prevention, celiac disease, Alzheimer’s, sickle cell, and rabies … to name a few. In fact, every month has its list of important health topics. To find out what you should be aware of today, check out the full Health Awareness Calendar and get busy!
Clearly our personal radar screen is not big enough to show all relevant health issues simultaneously. Even if there were an active blip for each, we simply do not have the mental wherewithal to effectively track them all. In fact, despite what many of us think, we are not really multi-taskers, as graphically shown in this fun 7-minute video We can juggle a few things, alternating our focus and giving the illusion of multi-tasking, but our attention can be on only one thing at a time.
How can we possibly juggle awareness of dozens or hundreds of important health matters? How can we actively think about three dozen in September alone? We can’t, but it seems that somehow we should find a way.
That’s why we depend on doctors to help monitor our health. Our primary physician is especially important in that role, and annual checkups represent our commitment to cooperate. This may sound a bit like passing the buck because ultimately our health is our personal responsibility. Nevertheless, living in a complex society necessarily involves mutual dependency and specialization. While I depend on my doctors, they depend on others for non-medical matters.
And what about education? Why is human anatomy not a key part of standard grade school classes? I think maybe I did have a human anatomy section in a high school biology class, but it sure didn’t feel personal. Like history, which is often presented in a needlessly dry, impersonal manner, anatomy could be made more relevant and exciting. After all, history and anatomy are about us. What could be more interesting than that?
I had six lovely prostate decades and never once said “thank you for your service.”
Some of us are glass-half-empty people. I’m a glass-half-full guy. As such, I would love to celebrate a Prostate Appreciation Month instead of, or at least along with a Prostate Cancer Awareness month. Why not applaud the little walnut-dude while he’s happy and working well? I had six lovely prostate decades and never once said “thank you for your service.”
Well, it’s never too late. Today I am declaring October to be the official Prostate Appreciation Month. We should be grateful for the critical jobs our prostate does (or did) so well. It helps make semen and propels it to its destination. It partially houses the urethra. It occupies a critical location, surrounded by the bladder, the rectum, and the nerves that control erectile function. It’s an undeniably important organ and deserves our respect and recognition.
So let’s cooperate with our doctors in juggling our health matters. Let’s encourage our schools to more effectively inform us about topics destined to be of great personal interest to us as adults.
And let’s continue shouting loudly each September about the amazing advances in prostate cancer detection and treatment, and the importance of early diagnosis.
We should also celebrate our prostate, give it the reverence it deserves, and make October the official Prostate Appreciation Month.
At least once a year, let’s give our prostate two thumbs up.
How do you feel about your prostate? I told you, now you tell me – thanks!