Attendees at the Boston Prostate Cancer Educational Symposium, June 16, 2013

This past Sunday, hundreds of churches across the country took part in the 5th annual Father’s Day Rally Against Prostate Cancer, organized by the Prostate Health Education Network (PHEN). During these rallies, church members share their personal stories and talk about the dangers and warning signs of prostate cancer.

PHEN was created in 2003 by Thomas Farrington who is also a prostate cancer survivor and has worked tirelessly to bring more awareness to the disease.

“Our focus is to eliminate the health disparity of prostate cancer in our community,” Farrington says. “What we are doing is a real aggressive campaign to educate and mobilize Black America in the fight against prostate cancer,” says Farrington.

“Knowledge about your risk level, your treatment options, managing survivorship rates. We have to educate the people where they are,” he continues.

Amongst the concerns that Farrington mentioned was how people were screened.

“The community has to press forward to address policy issues, the most concrete example is the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) screenings,” states Farrington.

In May 2012, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recommended against PSA-based screening for prostate cancer. The rationale behind this change was to curb the chances of misdiagnosis and subjecting patient to testing and treatment they didn’t need.

However, some feel those recommendations are not appropriate for all men.

“The USPSTF should not include high-risk groups, such as African-Americans in their message of not being tested, because there is not enough data that pertains to African-American men,” explains Farrington.

One of the rallies took place at Mitchell Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church in Pittsboro, NC. Here they talked about the role of the rallies, while recognizing survivors, family members and community leaders who are all in the fight together to battle this disease.

The survivor

Cory Headen, 67, of Pittsboro, NC, is a prostate cancer survivor who credits routine visits to his physician as the reason his was detected.

“I was diagnosed in 2000. My doctor felt something funny on the digital rectal exam and checked it out,” says Headen.

Like most patients afflicted with prostate cancer it took him completely by surprise.

“I had no symptoms when I found out I had prostate cancer. I was scared, and the first thing that went through my head was that I was going to die,” says Headen.

Once he found out he told his family but kept the diagnosis quiet to everyone else.

“I felt it wasn’t anybody else’s business,” explains Headen.

He believes the reasons why people have reluctance to be screened was because of sexual identity.

“I would tell Black men to do it. You have to put your priorities in order. The first thing they think when they think about prostate cancer is my sex life is over.”

While he did have concerns about his sex life, he believed that his life was more important.

“My wife said I would rather have you alive than us having sex. And she was right, my life was important to me than [sex] because if I had put that over my life I wouldn’t have lived to see my granddaughter [be born],” add Headen.

He believes with technological advancements in the treatment of prostate cancer, that men would be less afraid to see a doctor.

“If they create something that would make it possible for men to have sex after the surgery then men wouldn’t have a problem getting the surgery, says Headen.”

“We have had many conversations here at the church about it and every man here was worried about their sex life,” says Headen

The family member

Ernest Alston, 67, of Pittsboro, NC had two brothers who were diagnosed with prostate cancer which changed his outlook.

“I had been getting yearly physicals even before then, but now I get PSA checked twice a year now. Seeing that my brothers were both diagnosed in their 60s and my uncle have cancer really made me aware,” says Alston.

Alston put aside his fears to get tested.

“I’m apprehensive every time I get a checkup because I had 2 brothers, and uncle and a first cousin that had it. But I had to get past that and get tested.”

The community leaders

The local coordinators from the church sees Father’s Day as the perfect time to speak out against prostate cancer.

“We [as a community] devalue Father’s Day and the role of fathers in the community. Our roles are important when we do it right,” says Reverend Anthony Davis of the Mitchell Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church.

Everyone had their own reason for joining in the fight but for Davis it was personal.

“I had a close friend who had prostate cancer and I am making good on a promise to not only to get screened but to also tell others to get screened,” adds Davis.

Davis feels that speaking out is the key and that Black Churches are growing silent about being healthy.

“The silent killer in our community is silence. I don’t think our churches are doing enough to promote health and wellness,” explains Davis.

“In the 21st century, social justice ministries really should move us to care about health disparities. [Pastors] don’t think about if our congregation are actually embracing health and wellness,” explains Davis.

Reverend Davis believes that some churches place a value on things other than the health and wellness of their congregations.

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of our churches have become distracted by the business of the day. Trying to stay afloat, trying to meet budgets. Our challenge is that we deal with things that are ministry minded but not actually ministry,” states Davis.

The next steps

However they feel that more needs to be done about the issue.

“There needs to be more advocates that take this issue on. Women with breast cancer have advocates with star power or a brand to get their point across,” says Davis.

In spite of things, Davis feels that these rallies have caused a big impact on the way people think about their health and that the numbers will reflect that over time.

“I believe my generation will have a higher number of people getting tested because of education and awareness. Once we have that to raise awareness, level of engagement will follow, explains Davis.

Dr. Terrance McGill is an aspiring family physician with a passion for writing and increasing health awareness in the community. He recently completed his master’s in public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.