No woman can give you prostate can­cer, grandpa

CityPress - - Voices - Vangile Bingma voices@city­

We must fight the so­cial stigma of prostate can­cer. Last year, I trav­elled to the Eastern Cape twice to visit my pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, whose fight with prostate can­cer was com­ing to an end. My third visit was for his fu­neral, and I was re­minded that my late ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther had also had prostate can­cer. Dur­ing my stay in our beau­ti­ful vil­lage, I came face to face with the se­crecy, stigma and gos­sip that still sur­round the dis­ease.

For a while, I thought I was re­liv­ing the years dur­ing which HIV/Aids was spo­ken of in harsh tones.

In con­fu­sion, I started read­ing more about the can­cer. I found that em­bar­rass­ment and feel­ings of emas­cu­la­tion were key in­hibitors to speak­ing out and seek­ing help be­fore it was too late to ben­e­fit from treat­ment. Specif­i­cally, the di­ag­nos­tic pro­ce­dure is thought to be in­va­sive and ob­scene. In fact, con­ver­sa­tions with male friends about prostate can­cer high­lighted the per­ceived ob­scen­ity of the di­ag­nos­tic pro­ce­dure. Why?

Well, for the test, “a gloved, lu­bri­cated fin­ger is in­serted into the rec­tum to feel for any bumps or hard ar­eas on the prostate that might be can­cer”. For­tu­nately, prostate can­cer can also be de­tected us­ing a blood test, but this is less well known.

In my vil­lage, an­other bar­rier to seek­ing med­i­cal care is the pre­con­ceived idea that prostate can­cer is a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­ease, a be­lief that is ram­pant. This is be­cause the can­cer af­fects a sex or­gan.

Hav­ing read about the so­ci­ol­ogy of health and so­ci­ety, I know how peo­ple’s health con­cerns can­not be di­vorced from their mul­ti­ple, com­ple­men­tary and/or con­tra­dic­tory frames of ref­er­ence. The ref­er­ence points can be bio­med­i­cal, re­li­gious, cul­tural or all the above. Many in my vil­lage pri­mar­ily drew on cul­tural ex­pla­na­tions.

At the cen­tre of cul­tural ex­pla­na­tions was a prob­lem­atic gen­der blame game. Cul­tural ex­pla­na­tions of prostate can­cer shame dig­ni­fied old men, who are said to be pre­oc­cu­pied with sex. Women are vil­i­fied and pathol­o­gised be­cause prostate can­cer is seen as a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted ill­ness that is con­tracted from “un­clean” women. Such ex­pla­na­tions pit women against men and frus­trate in­ter­ven­tions in a bat­tle that has no win­ners.

The gos­sip sur­round­ing those with the dis­ease per­pet­u­ates the prob­lem. In fact, the higher the man’s so­cial sta­tus in his com­mu­nity, the more dev­as­tat­ing the gos­sip. Re­gard­less of their sta­tus, old men suf­fer in si­lence, seek­ing help far too late.

I am glad my grand­fa­ther, the man I adored like no other, sought help through­out, de­spite the gos­sip. As the can­cer rav­aged his body, I won­dered about the many other vic­tims who would con­tinue to die with the added bur­den of the so­cial stigma. I am glad my aunt (his daugh­ter) was there to take care of him un­til the end. I will al­ways trea­sure the op­por­tu­nity she af­forded me to par­tic­i­pate in­ti­mately in his care. I now know ex­actly how much of a strug­gle it was. That ex­pe­ri­ence al­lowed us to re­cip­ro­cate the love my grand­fa­ther had used so well to glue us all to­gether.

How do you know you or a loved one should seek help? Men must con­sult a health prac­ti­tioner if they ex­pe­ri­ence prob­lems pass­ing urine, see blood in their urine or have trou­ble get­ting an erec­tion, among other symp­toms. Prostate can­cer is more preva­lent among men over the age of 65, and the preva­lence in­creases with age. How­ever, more and more men above the age of 50 (and even ear­lier) are en­cour­aged to un­dergo tests.

To dis­pel the myths, we need to raise aware­ness about prostate can­cer. Pro­grammes such as Movem­ber are a step in the right di­rec­tion in terms of cre­at­ing aware­ness about men’s health in gen­eral. So­cially, un­less we chal­lenge the deepseated dis­dain for women’s bod­ies, which is con­structed to cre­ate the mis­con­cep­tion that they are car­ri­ers of im­pu­ri­ties – and un­til women refuse to be scape­goats for a so­ci­ety’s re­fusal to ex­am­ine its toxic gen­der con­cep­tions – we are guar­an­teed to see more un­timely deaths.

Health prac­ti­tion­ers and lo­cal lead­ers should work to­gether to ed­u­cate com­mu­ni­ties about can­cer in gen­eral. Ef­forts should take into ac­count the ten­sion be­tween bio­med­i­cal and cul­tural ex­pla­na­tions of the causes of ill­nesses.

More specif­i­cally, and im­por­tantly, we must work to end the shame and so­cial stigma re­lated to prostate can­cer.

Bingma is with the de­part­ment of So­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria. Visit The Cancer As­so­ci­a­tion of SA at,

or call the toll free num­ber on 0800 22 66 22. Also see za.movem­ and

for more in­for­ma­tion

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