September 24, 2019

Prostate cancer: Honesty and healing

For many men, open dialogue about health issues can avert complications and give them more healthy years to thrive.

Bob, a Kaiser Permanente member, says feeling invincible was a factor in not seeking help or talking about his health.

Kaiser Permanente Northwest member Bob (who has asked that we not use his last name) arrived at his oncology appointment with a formidable gait and sympathetic smile. It had been 3 months since he received his diagnosis; stage 4 metastasized prostate cancer. While there is currently no cure for his illness, he looks healthy as he arrives for his checkup.

“I’m a poker man. I play Texas Hold’em live. I go to tournaments and I play to win,” Bob offered as his intro. “I guess part of what makes me successful at poker is feeling invincible. When it came to my health, that belief carried over.”

Bob is not alone. Whether it be prostate cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, studies have found that men typically don’t talk about their health. Feeling invincible, or embarrassed, or less “manly” are all reasons given by men as to why they don’t seek help or talk about their health.

Honest conversations lead to better outcomes

“It’s so important for men to engage in their health, to really open up and be honest with their doctors, friends, and spouses,” said chief of urology, Eric Reid, MD. “We find that some things that may be uncomfortable to talk about, for example problems urinating, can be signs of a much more serious illness.”

This was the case for Bob. He waited years before scheduling an appointment with a doctor. “More than anything, I think about how 20 minutes of discomfort could have added years to my life,” he said. “This could have been growing for 10 years, and I could have caught it sooner.”

Nurse navigators bridge communication gap

Bobbie Provence is a Kaiser Permanente nurse navigator who supports prostate cancer patients. Perhaps the best benefit to our patients is that nurse navigators take a holistic approach to each patient, keeping the mindset that everyone has unique needs and concerns related to treatment options.

“Getting to know the patients and their personal concerns — things that can’t always be captured in a clinician office visit — is key to building a successful connection with them,” said Provence. “It’s this high level of involvement that helps them open up and make their navigator the “go-to person” for finding answers to questions about their condition and care.”

Bob has found the support from Provence to be especially helpful. He knows he can rely on her to keep him informed and on track with his health care — including everything from when his next appointment is to recommendations on how to change his diet.

Kaiser Permanente Northwest member Bob confers with nurse navigator Bobbie Provence about his treatment and care plan.
Kaiser Permanente Northwest member Bob confers with nurse navigator Bobbie Provence about his treatment and care plan.

From poker-faced to men’s health advocate

Perhaps it’s his friendly, approachable nature, but now, as Bob sits at the poker table, he is not shy to offer up that he is living with cancer.

“I tell all the men (and women) who will listen that if you don’t take care of yourself, if you don’t make your appointments, you have no one to blame but yourself.”

And perhaps his most important lesson that he wants others to learn: “If you want to live a long and healthy life, you have to take care of yourself.”