Four men, each with some form of prostate cancer, arrive at BCIT’s Burnaby campus in early January. None of the men know each other, but they will be working together with the Men’s Transition Program facilitators over the next three days.
Any initial trepidation and defensiveness quickly dissipates with the first tasks designed to help the guys uncover what really makes them proud. One of the attendees, Chris, describes it as helping to “get beyond men’s entrenched outlook of being invincible and emotionally bullet proof”.
“[Prior to this program] nobody had any idea what questions to ask, nor the skill to help me dig deep and get past a lifetime of being the ‘tough guy’ who has been there for so many people and completely unable to ask for help when I need it,” says Chris.
After debriefing the initial exercise, the group pushes to a deeper level of introspection. Each participant builds a timeline of their life’s key influence points. In examining their personal stories, the guys also unpack emotions that many have suppressed as part of maintaining the appearance of invulnerability – of being a ‘real man’.
The group members present their life timelines and, often for the first time, air fears, uncertainties, and insecurities. Tough as it is, the relief is palpable. Across the group, a burden is lifted from each of the men’s shoulders.
“We are not the odd man out that each of us thought we were. Now we have a common floor,” explains Chris.
From this point of connection, the group now begins to discuss the brutal reality of prostate cancer, and its impact on the quality of their lives and sense of mortality.
The discussion ranges from behaviours and attitudes by the medical system that were unhelpful at best, and damaging at worst. The men share experiences like being told that urgent intervention is needed, but then the biopsy is delayed two more months. Others feel misled about the time it takes to become continent again. All the men agree that the professional distance can make them feel like inanimate objects – just part of the daily repair routine.
They also discuss a few shining examples of medical staff going beyond the call of duty. They hope that these remarkable beacons might, in Patch Adams’ words, “spread like a brush fire through the medical community”.
The facilitators help the group navigate some of the men’s more suppressed fears: sexuality, inability to have an erection, difficulty in generating an orgasm, shame of incontinence, and some self-admitted ineptitude in being able to talk to their life partners about these collective fears.
“Here we are, criticizing the individuals in health care about their distance from us while behaving the very same way to our life partners – what a wake-up call,” Chris admits ruefully.
The program facilitators act as guide and companion throughout the process. By creating a space for the men to safely consider, test, and try on new views of themselves, the facilitators work to bring each of the guys to a more constructive interpretation of their individual experiences that resonates with their personal reality.
“We could not have done this work without the trust and safe conditions created by our four facilitators… we emerged as whole people able to function at a far more effective level in our interpersonal interactions,” shares Chris.
Currently, the Movember-funded Men’s Transition Program is only offered to a select few as part of a pilot study. However, there is a growing need for regularly scheduled programming as finding information is not easy. There are few resources tailored to supporting men’s psychological experiences of cancer within the broader social context.
“On demographics alone, there is a silver tidal wave of confused, scared, and largely silent men who will be presenting themselves to urologists over the next 12 to 15 years,” Chris points out.
Chris is quick to add that if other men are hesitant about attending an upcoming session, not to delay, and to make every effort to attend.