Black men must take prostate cancer seriously

By Dr. Chris J. Morgan Wednesday December 11 2013 in Opinion
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As the final numbers come in, The Canadian Movember Campaign for 2013 is poised to be even more successful than 2012 when $42.6 million was raised for prostate cancer research, education, support and awareness initiatives. The Canadian Movember Campaign is now recognized as one of the leading Movember campaigns in the world.


For Winston Isaac, PhD, every month is Movember, as he takes advantage of every opportunity to help educate the community, but in particular Black men, about prostate cancer. Following his own personal diagnosis of prostate cancer over a decade ago in 2002 and wanting to share his experience and the knowledge he had gained, Winston founded The Walnut Foundation, a Men’s Health Interest Group and Prostate Cancer Support Group, in 2007. I spoke with him recently for this column.

Cancer is possibly the most feared disease and it is often not well understood. In simple terms, what is prostate cancer, who is at risk and how is it detected?


Prostate cancer is cancer that starts in the prostate. Cells in the prostate go into a frenzy of multiplying themselves and get out of control ending up in the form of a tumour. These tumours may be very aggressive or could be very slow in growing. The risks of prostate cancer are said to be related to heredity, especially being Black. A Black man must get checked early (before age 40) especially if his father or brother or uncle may have had prostate cancer. Other concerns are around diet and activity level. We hear about the effect of diet and lack of exercise on many diseases and it is no different for prostate cancer. It is said that anything that is good for the heart is good for the prostate.


Prostate cancer can creep up on you. Some men have symptoms but the majority do not have any symptoms until late in the disease, hence the reason for a regular check by the family doctor.


Men should start with the blood test for PSA (prostate specific antigen) by age 40 and earlier for a man with a strong family history of prostate cancer. The reading is not specific to cancer in the prostate but it tells if there is a problem with the prostate. The other early test to be done is an examination of the prostate where the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the condition of the prostate. If there are lumps felt on the Digital Rectal Examination, the next step will be a biopsy where tiny pieces of the prostate are examined under the microscope to identify if there is cancer present, the type of cells and the rate of growth.

What are some of the challenges in creating awareness and initiating meaningful discussions on men’s health in the Black community?


One of the early struggles that I have experienced is the willingness of Black men to talk about health and health issues. There is a perception that “well” men do not go to the doctor. This is so wrong. “Well” men need to be screened so that if there is a change, it would be caught early and treated immediately. There seems to be a lack of understanding that in order to have good health, you must know about health. We each have a great responsibility to look after our health.


I must admit that the guys who attend my Men’s Health Interest Group’s monthly meeting have reported that they are now more comfortable talking about health and are better able to lead the conversation with their doctor since having the exposure and experience with the discussions that take place at The Walnut Foundation meetings.

The Mission of The Walnut Foundation is to empower men to take responsibility for their health. How do you pursue this mission?


The Walnut Foundation offers information about health in a presentation and discussion format on a monthly basis through the Men’s Health Interest Group and the Prostate Cancer/Health Support Group. We create a comfortable environment where no one is asked to reveal their health condition but can ask any question. We have single topic discussions as well as sessions in which questions can be asked on any topic of interest or concern. We bring in health and other professionals as well as accept the offer from our guys who want to lead a session based on their personal experience. One of our popular sessions is “Men Taking Responsibility for Their Health” where men learn how to get good information, how to prepare to have a discussion with their family doctor, and how to get the best from their healthcare professionals and the healthcare system.


I also go out and present to other community groups and conferences, especially in the Black community to talk about Prostate Cancer Awareness and Men Taking Responsibility for Their Health. I also hold discussions on how to effectively utilize the healthcare system.

The Walnut Foundation recently held a Men’s Health Conference, what were some of the issues presented and what was the response of the participants?


The Walnut Foundation’s Conference on Men’s Health was a tremendous success. It was held at Ryerson University in Toronto on September 28. The opening speaker was Dr. John Oliffe from the University of British Columbia. Dr. Oliffe’s presentation addressed the topic of Men, Masculinity and Health and showed how men’s perception of masculinity and the society definition of manhood can sometimes influence how men seek healthcare support. Some participants suggested that we hold a full day session with Dr. Oliffe at a future time.


Dr. Andrew Feifer (urologic oncologist) provided a presentation that made it easy to understand the issues around prostate cancer. He reminded the audience of the statistics that were specific to the prevalence of prostate cancer in Black men. The audience’s engagement with Dr. Feifer showed that it was a subject of great interest to the community. It was with regret that we had to terminate the question period as it clearly showed that more time was needed for questions and comments. In the rating of Dr. Fiefer’s presentation, one person wanted to give him an 11 even though the top rating was set at 10.


Janace King-Watson (MSW) reminded us of the prevalence of mental health issues in men and the need for more attention to be paid to that area of healthcare provision. The need for family support and that of friends was also highlighted. This presentation also generated a high level of participation.


Other highlights of the conference included a passionate delivery by Rocco Rocci, the President and CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada, in which he reminded the audience of the important work of The Walnut Foundation and the need for such work to be support and encouraged.


The audience was in awe with the presentation of a Black male who shared his experience with prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment, the influence of family history and the effects of family dynamics.


Overall, the conference was a tremendous success and this was demonstrated in the feedback received from 82 persons (out of 97) who completed the evaluation form. The majority said that we need to have an annual conference; that their awareness of the issues has increased; that they will share the information with family and friends.


Here is a sampling of comments:


–          “I gained quite a bit of insight into the topics presented.”

–          “Excellent”; “Very Informative”; “The conference was a perfect introduction to Men’s Health”.

–          “Thanks for organizing this conference – it was informative and timely”.

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?


There is a need to continually provide prostate cancer information that is specific to the Black male. There needs to be an understanding that health promotion initiatives for Black males would be best pursued in a culturally sensitive manner and be tailored to the specific group.


We need to see more Black-focused research on men’s health issues, including prostate cancer and having said that, there is a responsibility for Black males to be willing to participate in the research, not only as subjects but as researchers as well. There is a need for focused seed grants so that Men’s Health initiatives could be supported at a community level rather than having all the funding going to highly established research interests and organizations which do not necessarily have a Black focus or interest.


The time has come for the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to make Men’s Health one of its strategic priorities. There is a need for an agency of the Ministry to focus on Men’s Health so that funding policies would be crafted to allow men to have access to no-cost screening and testing for conditions such as prostate cancer.


The specific branch of the Ministry would also be responsible for providing support to grassroots groups which provide community engagement and support and which could also be community partners for the Ministry in identifying needs that are unique and specific to the Black male. This would result in providing opportunities for the Ministry to meet the ‘real’ needs of the Black male and the Black community in general.


It is a known fact that illness effects are not confined to the individual alone but can have a profound effect on family friends and community.

What are your thoughts about the Movember campaign, its reach into the Black community and the response among Black men?


The Movember campaign is a great way to get the conversation going on Men’s Health. Initially, the intent was to raise money in a fun way to fund prostate cancer research. Now, the funds go also to Men’s Health issues such as Mental Health. The annual campaign does help to promote men’s health and with the funds for research, we can all be assured that men’s health issues, including prostate cancer, are not being left behind.


I would like to see more Blacks being part of the Movember movement. It would give us another outlet for starting conversations around Men’s Health. It would also give us a stronger voice in pushing for more research that focus on the health issues of the Black male.

What activities are you and The Walnut Foundation planning for the coming months and New Year?


At The Walnut Foundation, we are concentrating on five areas for the next few months:


–          First is the monthly meetings to provide timely health information and provide a safe and comfortable environment in which our guys interact on the second Sunday of the month;

–          Next, we will continue to seek out opportunities to present at community groups on the topics of Prostate Cancer Awareness and Men Taking Responsibility for Their Health;

–          We will be offering a Symposium on Prostate Cancer on Saturday, February 8 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. as part of our contribution to Black History Month celebration in Brampton;

–          Our fourth area of focus is ramping up the activities of the Prostate Cancer Support Group which will focus on guys with a prostate health issue; and

–          On September 27, 2014 we will hold our annual Conference on Men’s Health in Toronto.

For more information about the Walnut Foundation please contact Winston Isaac at 905-799-2759, email at or visit online at and follow us on Facebook at

Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the Past 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

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