By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
The Canadian Movember Campaign for 2011 has raised over $31 million for prostate cancer research, education, support and awareness initiatives, up from $22.3 million in 2010 and is now recognized as the most successful Movember campaign in the world.
For Winston Isaac, every month is Movember, as he takes advantage of every opportunity to help educate the community, in particular Black men, about prostate cancer.
I first met Winston in the spring of 2010 at a community health stakeholders meeting. After my presentation on the Black Health Project, he told me about The Walnut Foundation, a Black men’s health group. I was impressed because I was not aware of any other group of its kind. Since then, we have worked together on a few initiatives and I thought it would be most appropriate to speak to him at the close of Movember about prostate cancer.
Why are you so passionate and committed to educating the community about prostate cancer?
I was aware of prostate cancer but I was not aware of the high incidence in Black men until I was diagnosed in 2002. In my quest for information for my personal use, I felt that I did not know enough about the disease before my diagnosis. Additionally, when I was diagnosed, I thought that I should talk to my friends/acquaintances. Some of those people were very uncomfortable with me sharing my information with them. At first, I thought they were concerned for my mortality and morbidity so I kept saying that I was in the early stages of the disease and that I had choices for treatments that would lead to a cure and my returning to a normal life after treatment.
This made me become more aware of the need for a plan to enlighten the Black community.
On another level, this is my way of putting a face to the disease for the Black community and providing an example that a diagnosis of prostate cancer is not a death sentence; that the disease can be effectively managed when diagnosed early. I have heard too many horror stories of men who have been treated too late due to inaction on their part, with debilitating outcomes – and even loss of life.
I want to share my knowledge, skills and experience in an effort to lessen the impact of prostate cancer in the Black community – it is my contribution to our community.
So, in 2007, I formed the Walnut Foundation which is essentially a Men’s Health Interest Group and prostate cancer support group. It has been a very rewarding experience to hear guys say that they are continuously learning about health issues and the difference it has made in their personal lives. The confidence level that they are displaying in their participation in the conversations is wonderful to see.
Why are Black men at increased risk of prostate cancer?
Scientists are still working on that. Observation shows a genetic link which has not yet been confirmed. What has been seen is that if there is an incidence of prostate cancer in a family, one can expect that a father and/or brother would have an increased chance of being affected by the disease.
In your opinion, what are some of the common myths or misunderstandings about prostate cancer?
Number one is that if you are treated for prostate cancer, your sex life if over. That’s not the case at all. Another common myth is that prostate cancer is due to some sex-related activities (abuse or underuse of the sexual organs) or as a result of venereal diseases. Again, this is false.
Then there are others who think cancer is incurable and that prostate cancer is a death sentence. Fortunately, this is not always the case. And, lastly, that prostate cancer is an old man’s disease. Some Black men under 50 are being diagnosed with the disease.
I am impressed with the number of Black men I have seen at the monthly Walnut Foundation meetings. What have you found to be an effective approach in attracting Black men to attend and actively participate?
Personal recruiting, creating a safe and comfortable environment. We make it known that no one should feel obliged to disclose personal health information and we remind the group that any personal information that is disclosed or discussed is confidential and must not be the subject of gossip.
I try to schedule a mix of topics for the sessions, and keep the presentation language simple and understandable. We always encourage and allow time for discussion and questions (get rid of the burning issues) and we keep it non-judgmental. There is a strong element of support; we encourage one another in the quest for good health practices.
Our meetings are held at a convenient time, Sunday afternoon, with a specified duration of two hours. We try to keep the momentum in the summer with social gatherings.
What are your thoughts about the Movember campaign, its reach into the Black community and the response among Black men?
The Movember campaign is positive for prostate cancer as it brings awareness to the cause. It also has the ‘youth’ factor which is very much needed so that society can get away from thinking that prostate cancer is an old man’s disease. As more young men become aware, they will get screened and lessen the impact of the disease in the future.
I am not sure that Movember has really caught on in the Black community. We need to make a better effort of organizing for this annual event. Perhaps it appears to be too much of a gimmick but, with time, it will become more mainstream in our community.
You recently attended the annual Prostate Cancer Canada Conference in Halifax. What did you see or hear at the conference that impressed you?
I was really pleased to be at the Prostate Cancer Canada Network (PCCN) Conference in Halifax. Currently, that conference is ‘closed’ as it caters only to PCCN affiliates. I was there as a guest as I am part of the National Task Force for PCCN, which is mandated to help formulate the direction for Prostate Cancer Canada and build prostate cancer support groups throughout Canada. I had the opportunity to present on forming groups that may have non-traditional needs – basically, my experience with forming The Walnut Foundation.
We were informed of some of the ongoing prostate cancer research that PCCN is funding, especially work done by Dr. Patrick Lee on the use of viruses in the control of prostate cancer cells.
The downside of the conference for me was the low representation of Blacks. There were only two of us there.
What recommendations would you make in terms of health promotion, research and public health policy in order to significantly reduce the incidence and impact of prostate cancer among Black men?
We need to get to young men in their formative years and encourage them to practice positive health behaviours, such as the importance of a medical check-up and screening.
We need to get the word out that there are certain diseases that are prevalent in racial and ethnic groups and the importance of knowing risk factors.
There needs to be specific research on prostate cancer among Black men in Canada along with government partnerships and funding within the Black community for organizations whose focus is on the health of Black men.
There is a need to make prostate cancer screening more accessible to all men and, moreso, to Black men over the age of 35 – and free of cost.
We need educational activities in the Black community to remove the stigma from prostate cancer including discussions around the meaning of masculinity and why it stands in the way of positive health behaviours, especially when it comes to screening for prostate cancer.
Lastly, there is a strong need for a Men’s Health Secretariat within all levels of government and health agencies such as Public Health. Men’s health programs should be established in the Community Health Centres and related organizations.
What activities are you and The Walnut Foundation planning for the coming months and New Year?
We will continue to have our monthly educational/information meetings. In the New Year, we are planning to mark the 5th year of the existence of The Walnut Foundation with a major education event to focus on men’s health.
We will continue to reach out to other groups for discussions on prostate cancer awareness and men taking responsibility for their health. I will also continue to offer myself as a speaker on prostate cancer.
We are developing a strategy to reach younger men (below age 40). The idea is to educate them early about potential health hazards and about developing a strong relationship with their doctors so they can be comfortable enough to have a meaningful discussion on the subject.
Continue to seek out strategic partnership with like-minded groups and organizations in the Black Community such as the Black Health Alliance so that we can influence public policy on issues such as men’s health.
Next week: A prostate cancer testimonial.
Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. He can be reached at 416-447-7600 or firstname.lastname@example.org