“My body is like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don’t think about it, I just have it.” These words from Arnold Schwarzenegger reflect an all too common attitude in men’s health. Men are notorious for not listening to their own bodies, even when an unusual symptom is waving a warning flag. Compared to women’s health, being in denial about health issues and avoiding seeing a doctor is definitely a guy thing.
Psychologists often explain this in terms of the way we’ve been culturally raised. We’re supposed to be rugged individuals, strong, able to take care of ourselves, able to push past weakness or pain. In the U.S., this kind of cultural conditioning doesn’t serve us well when it comes to healthcare. How many men have swept a physical symptom under the rug because they don’t want to be seen as weak? Or because they’re brought up to ignore risks?
Messages about masculinity, some more obvious than others, are embedded in all cultures. Many of them feed into a medical fear factor. This is especially true with prostate cancer, which can silently lurk for years without symptoms. Why would an otherwise healthy man want to go for a physical, including bloodwork, if he doesn’t feel sick? Why would he want to be screened for cancer, especially one with treatments that could affect his urinary and sexual function? Consider all the things he might fear: fear of the digital rectal exam, fear of a painful biopsy, fear of finding out he has cancer, fear of coming out of treatment with impotence or wearing diapers, fear of dying if he doesn’t get treatment.
Thanks to mass media, we are slowly but surely coming out of the “Dark Ages” in men’s health. In addition to a wealth of available information about eating well, exercising, managing stress, etc., there’s the latest material on less invasive or noninvasive imaging that can reduce the fear of painful and often inaccurate testing. On top of that, word is getting out about painless prostate cancer treatments that are curative with little or no risk of side effects, and have quick recovery times. It takes very little searching to gain hopeful news.
Plato wrote, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” No matter in which culture you’ve been raised, seek out the facts. They shed new light on the path that leads out of fear and into total health: body, mind, and spirit.