Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

Scheduling difficulties prevent me from bringing you the latest installment of The Erotic Mind podcast series today. But with a little luck, that will resolve itself by next week.

Actually, I’m glad I have this positing opportunity, because September, as you may know is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.  And I have something important to say about that.

Curiously enough, I was contacted by another website recently and asked to contribute to a series they were doing on this very issue. They were looking for a unique take on prostate cancer awareness. I told them I had just the thing; and proceed to outline what I think is an exceptionally important, yet universally overlooked, aspect of prostate health — prostate self-awareness. Alas, the folks who run the website thought the concept of prostate self-exam was too edgy for them. After they declined my offer I thought to myself; man, there is incredible resistance, on virtually every front, for us men to become proactive in this aspect of our health.

Name: Gordon
Gender: male
Age: 67
Location: Florida
I guess I have more of a comment than a question. I’m 67, a widower and have been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. I never was very adventuresome when it came to sex. In fact, before my wife died two years ago, I never had sex with any other woman. I never gave prostate cancer a thought, never gave my prostate a thought either. Now I’m mad as hell that I didn’t. You see when I started to go to a prostate cancer support group I discovered I could have monitored myself better with a simple self-examination. Why don’t doctors tell us about this? Women are supposed to examine their breasts why don’t men examine their prostate? It’s so easy actually and yet it’s this big secret. Why don’t people talk about this? It makes me so mad because it could have made a big difference in my own life. Do you know about this self-examination Dr Dick? If you do why don’t you tell other people about this? I think it would help a lot if you could get the word out on this. Now that’s all I have to say. Thank you.

No, thank you Gordon. Thank you for sharing your concern with me…with us.

I’ve been a tireless activist of prostate self-exam for decades. Let me explain. My career as a therapist began in San Francisco in 1981. That was precisely the same year a mysterious new disease began showing up among gay men. Back then it was being called gay cancer, but soon it would have another name — HIV/AIDS.

As it turned out, my private practice focused down almost exclusively to working with sick and dying people. Luckily, I discovered that I was well suited for the job and I liked it very much. So much so that in the mid-90’s I founded a nonprofit organization called, PARADIGM; Enhancing Life Near Death. It was an outreach and resource for terminally ill, chronically ill, elder and dying people. This was brilliant cutting-edge work and I learned so much from the people I was working with. One of the things that struck me most was that regardless of the disease — cancer, HIV, MS, you name it, or even aging process for that matter — there was always a woeful lack of information about regaining a sense of sexual-self post diagnosis, or sexual wellbeing for seniors.

I recall one participant in particular, a man much like you, Gordon. He too had prostate cancer and, like you, he was mad as hell with the indifference of the medical industry toward prostate self-exam. One day during a group session, John was railing against doctors and cancer associations for their lack of interest in promoting prostate self-awareness. He pointed to the success of the cultural campaign to encourage women to self-examine their breasts. There is even a modest campaign to promote testicle self-exams. But apparently the medical industry draws the line at prostate self-exams. I guess no one is going to encourage a man to finger his ass, even to save his life.

Another group member, Clare, a senior woman in her 70’s and a breast cancer survivor, helped put things in perspective. She reminded us that breast self-awareness is a relatively new phenomenon. Her mother, aunt, sister and a niece all died of breast cancer before the self-exam campaign began in earnest. Clare went on to say that it was only through the hard work of individuals and grassroots organizations that actively campaigned for breast self-exams that things began to change. Eventually, this movement changed the medical and cultural mindset. Clare said that it was these individuals and grassroots organizations that helped all of us overcome the denial, shame and embarrassment that was associated with women touching themselves, even to save their lives.

This is an indication of just how ingrained the sex-negativity and body-negativity runs in this culture.

I continue to work with sick and dying people here in Seattle. I had a brief gig at a local cancer center where I developed an NIH (National Institute of Health) funded program for women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer. At the same time, I was also working with a group of women with breast cancer and group of men with prostate cancer. Again every therapeutic intervention I encountered — government funded or foundation funded — was woefully lacking in any clear and unambiguous information about sexual health, wellbeing and intimacy issues post-diagnosis or surgical intervention.

To remedy this, I decided to produce a series of videos for people experiencing life threatening and/or disfiguring illnesses. Videos that would help them address reintegrating sex and intimacy into their lives post diagnosis. One of the first videos was going to be Public Service Announcement showing men how to do a prostate self-exam and what to look for. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the necessary funding for this groundbreaking work. My grantwriting efforts turned up zilch. I did, however, get a whole lot of, “What a fine idea, Richard. Good luck with that…” brush-off letters though. No foundation would be caught dead funding sexually overt pattern films, even ones with the laudable intent of assisting people with the life-saving information they needed most.

I’m sorry to have been so long-winded in my reply, Gordon. I just wanted you to know that many have preceded you with outrage at the conspiracy of silence regarding prostate self-exam. Let’s face it; our society is so ass-phobic that we’d rather see men die than offer them simple instructions on how to finger their butt, find their prostate and keep tabs on their prostate health.

If we want this to change we all need to speak out…as well as stick a finger in our ass.

Keep up the fight, Gordon! And please, stay in touch.

Good luck

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