My heart sank as I looked through the envelope that arrived in the letterbox one day. It was from Cancer Care, and not only did it remind me that
men in their 50s are at risk for colorectal cancer, it offered
a simple solution to the possibility that I might be living
with an undetected cancer – a way to find out whether I
have a problem or not.
All I had to do was follow some very basic instructions
to provide some stool samples and return them in a convenient envelope. But the yuck factor made me pause. I
was pretty sure I didn’t have cancer. Certainly I had no
symptoms. Why bother?
Well … the letter nagged at me. I know that the earlier a
problem is detected, the better the treatment options available. In fact, some cancers can be totally avoided by finding
and treating early changes. So I resolved to send in the samples, and then let the letter linger for months on my dresser.
Something within me resisted the effort required to proceed
with a relatively easy procedure, even though it offered a
tremendous health benefit. I was pretty sure I was okay, and
that was enough to keep me from taking preventive action.
it’s a Man Thing
I’m not alone in my tendency to ignore health warnings.
It’s a man thing, and it’s not just colorectal cancer precautions we’re avoiding. North American men often show
a callous disregard for their own health, and many habitually resist visiting a doctor. In fact, men make only half as
many physician visits for prevention than women.
Let me say that another way. Women are 100 per cent
more likely to visit the doctor for annual examinations
and preventive services than men.
I had already been thinking about writing a column on
men’s reluctance to seek medical attention when a woman
approached me with a pointed question. “Why is it that
men do not go to see a doctor willingly?” She said it was “a
mystery” to her, and while it’s not particularly clear to me
either, I’ve come up with a few reasons that help explain
our habits of avoidance.
Because it’s invasive. We tend to approach medical
appointments with visions of colonoscopies dancing in
Why Men avoid
Are colorectal concerns at the bottom of
your list? Is men’s health not a community
our heads. A doctor’s physical examination confronts
our notions of privacy and puts data about our personal,
intimate functions on the record. We don’t like opening
ourselves this way. This isn’t just embarrassment about
flab and other evidence of unhealthy lifestyle choices. It’s
about being exposed and vulnerable to distasteful probings and potentialities.
We don’t like being poked. We don’t want to hear that we
have some disease. We’d rather not know. Medical gowns
make us feel as helpless as infants. We don’t like that.
Because it’s bad news. Many of us believe doctors and
health care centres are for sick people. Therefore, if we’re
not feeling ill, there’s no point being there. Consciously or
otherwise, we associate medical care with pain, disease,
suffering and loss. Again, these are conditions we don’t
want to deal with unless or until they become inevitable.
In so doing we miss the point that is well encapsulated
in a proverb: “A man too busy to take care of his health
is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.” Our
inaction indicates that the concept of preventative maintenance matters more for machines than it does for people.
Because it undermines our values of strength and
independence. From an early age, North American males
are typically taught to suck up discomfort without complaining, and to stifle tears when they threaten to arise.
Being ill is equated with weakness. We learn to mask and
minimize symptoms because we want to appear tough
and strong – to be resourceful, pickup-driving men able
to travel a tough road and prove ourselves in the process.
This distorted vision of manliness means we lose status
if doctors’ orders force changes to our lifestyle. We want to
blaze our own trail. We don’t want to depend on others to
care for us. We believe it’s our job to look out for others.
Truth be told, it’s everyone’s job to look out for others.
A Christian ethic of care seeks the well-being of everyone
in the community. And because illness does have such
devastating effects in people’s lives, it makes great sense to
take reasonable precautions against contracting avoidable
diseases. That means, among other things, regular doctor
visits and age-appropriate screening for common ailments.
It’s better to avoid the sickness than to shy from the test.
Recognizing and preventing health problems is not just an
individual concern. Men’s health impacts women – wives,
mothers, daughters, sisters – as well as workplaces, churches
and anywhere else a man is active. It isn’t about any one man
going it alone. Men’s health is a community issue. FT
DOug KOOp is a Winnipeg-based writer and spiritual
health specialist. find more of these columns at
BlessedIs TheMan n BY DOUG KOOP