It started in my legs. A couple of days later I started feeling a bit weird all evening, as if I were coming down with the flu. I was achy all over. That evolved into weakness and a fever. It certainly seemed as if I had some sort of virus. I was wrong, however. I had developed something called prostatitis. Have not heard of it? It is the inflammation of a man’s prostate gland.
While there has been important attention to prostate cancer and the enlargement of the prostate, there is very little attention to prostatitis, despite the fact that about half of all men over the age of 50 get it. The causes seem to vary from a bacterial infection to trauma to unknown causes. What I will tell you is that it makes you feel absolutely miserable.
It is not just that there is little attention to prostatitis but that men seem reluctant to discuss it. Too many Black men want to ignore the fact that they even have a prostate. Many of our brothers refuse to have an annual prostate exam — which involves a doctor inserting a finger into your rectum to determine whether the prostate is normal — either out of ignorance or homophobia. In fact, I had one brother once tell me that he was afraid that he would become gay if he had a prostate test! So, as a result both prostate and colon cancers end up becoming silent killers in our communities because no one wants to discuss them.
Prostatitis is not cancer. Yet the pain and frustration associated with it is not publicly discussed. There are various treatments, including antibiotics, but in some cases doctors will recommend changes in diet, exercise and some other life-style alterations. Prostatitis can return under certain conditions, meaning that it can become a chronic condition about which every man should be aware. Every man also needs to take steps, such as making sure to get exercise and keeping yourself hydrated. But it is also important, if the symptoms emerge, to get to a doctor and not pretend that you are Iron Man and impervious to all pain.
Getting ill in the way that I have experienced it has been a wake-up call on a number of different levels. It has reminded me that I am aging and that while, overall, I take care of myself and feel well, I am no longer 25. It has also reminded me that there are steps with which I must concern myself to protect my health. Not living in denial is one of the most important.
On top of all of this, however, this experience has reminded me that in this society we really do not like discussing our bodies. Yes, we like looking at bodies, but we really do not like coming to grips with the complexities of our bodies. We become shameful or turn serious matters into jokes. In some cases the embarrassment associated for many people with discussions of our bodies leads us to become silent altogether. You think that I am exaggerating? A relative of mine, out of profound discomfort in discussing their body, died of a completely curable cancer that happened to be in their private areas, because they simply did not want to discuss the matter.
Time to wake up and smell — the green tea!