Dads, brothers, friends and uncles… it's time to talk men's health06/14/2019
I COUNT myself very lucky to have my men in my life.
My son, husband, dad, brother and close friends are my rocks.
They keep me going, are my shoulders to cry on, make me laugh and help me forget for precious moments that I am living with stage 4 bowel cancer.
This weekend is Father's Day, and if you, like me, are looking for last minute gifts, there's one thing that could prove the best gift of all.
A life-saving gift. A conversation.
'I'm fine'… generally means 'I'm not fine'
We know men don't talk enough, about the things in life that are worrying them.
Believe it or not, I don't find it easy. If someone asks how I am, I am pretty good at giving a quick smile, nod and "I'm fine", in response.
I can put on a brave face even if I've been up all night vomiting.
But, with a bit of pushing, even stubborn old me will open up and admit "I'm fine", really means "I'm NOT fine".
It's a typically British, stiff upper lip response – an avoidance tactic.
Us girls love a chat
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was lucky enough to be surround by friends who stepped up and stepped in to help me face it.
We women love to talk, who doesn't love a gossip and bit of a b*tch with our best friends?
Men are staying silent, and it's killing them
We're good at keeping conversations going, on WhatsApp, Instagram, there's no stopping us.
One of the only good things about cancer for me has been the amazing new friends I've made.
Friends I can talk to at 3am when I'm panicking about my next scan results.
Friends who really understand what I'm going through.
If I didn't have my entire support network I think I would have plunged into a deep, dark hole and never got out.
Telling men to 'man up' isn't helpful
As it's Father's Day on Sunday, and Men's Health Awareness Week, it's poignant to talk about it.
Men need to talk more, many I know have an 'ignorance is bliss' approach to their health.
Whether it's fear or embarrassment, blokes avoid going to the doctor's when there is something wrong.
I blame much of the language we have historically used around men and diseases like cancer.
We tell men to "man up", we go on about people "battling" or "fighting" cancer. We use all these macho war-related words, words that only serve to make men think they should be "tough" and "brave".
I've got cancer, I'm not brave, I'm not in the middle of a battle or fight, I'm not tough.
It's so important we stop using these words when we talk about men and disease in general.
No one loses their fight with cancer, it was never a fair fight in the first place.
But you can see how chat like this puts men off.
We can all help our men open up
As women, we have a duty to show men the way when it comes to talking about their health.
They are staying silent, and it's killing them.
We can all encourage, our dads, husbands, sons, brothers and friends to open up.
Start with a simple, "How are you?". If you get, "I'm fine", don't just accept it.
I get it's hard, all the men in my life try to avoid it too.
It's like trying to get a blood out of a stone at times, but opening up that door means they can always choose to step through it later.
I'm always best quizzed on how I am if it doesn't feel like an interrogation, and I am sure the men in my life are the same.
Maybe yours are too.
Mental health issues are an epidemic
Once you've got them to start opening up, the next thing is to be ready for what might happen.
I don't really do any emotion – you're lucky if you get so much as a long-arm hug from me.
A recent YouGov survey found that 55 per cent of men aged 18-24 feel like crying makes them less masculine.
I don't think it does, having a good cry and letting it all out is exactly what I need a lot of the time.
We can all encourage, our dads, husbands, sons, brothers and friends to open up. Start with a simple, "How are you?". If you get, "I'm fine", don't just accept it
But, I understand that when I'm a blubbering mess, I feel a bit weak, vulnerable and like my guard is down.
Importantly, that cry is sometimes a cry for help.
We need to get to a point where men who are worried about their health, men who notice something is up – feel a lump or bump, feel they can open up.
It's important they don't feel embarrassed or ashamed and have the confidence to just say something, anything.
All too often bottling these feelings up can cause them to build up and snowball to a point where they get out of control.
Mental health issues will affect one in four people in the UK, and suicide is still the biggest killer of men under the age of 35.
It's an epidemic and we all need to do our bit to try and stop it taking more lives.
Spotting cancer signs saves lives
On a physical level, and from my point of view as someone living with cancer, it's also vital to encourage men to check their poo for signs of cancer.
Check their balls for signs of lumps, keep a tracking of their peeing to stay alert to any prostate issues.
When it comes to questions, why not throw in the odd, "how are your bowel habits at the mo? Any changes, any concerns?".
Be funny with it, use gentle humour where you can.
Buy a bowel cancer screening test and try that as a Father's Day pressie, why not?
Yes, it's important not to scare people, but a little nudge, a gentle "how are you?" there, and it might just save your man's life.
Cancer can be prevented, and if you end up getting it the earlier it's diagnosed the better.
So a couple of uncomfortable conversations, a couple of slightly embarrassing but fleeting moments might spare you the pain, emotional turmoil and agony of facing cancer.
And believe me, it's worth it.
So, let's all vow to ask our dads, husbands, brothers, sons and friends how they are this Sunday. And let's make it a regular thing.
Happy Father's Day to you all, the dads still with us, the ones we've sadly lost too soon and all those desperate-to-be dads.
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