Paramedics from Chicago’s Finley Fire Department save the lives of gay and bisexual men suffering from prostate cancer.
Chicago is looking to spark a sex-positive conversation about prostate cancer on Monday, part of its new campaign that calls for awareness, prevention and treatment that includes unprotected sex as the first line of defense.
The “Steal Your Heart” initiative, named after the Elliott Smith song, was conceived by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the organization best known for its support services for victims of sexual assault.
“The idea of saving your heart really resonated with me,” Emma Silverman, the director of prevention and outreach at RAINN, said Thursday. “It’s in a spirit of, what could I do to save my body? What could I do to save my life?”
RAINN will promote the program by placing ribbons and posters at local hospitals, including the University of Chicago Medicine and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, both in Park Ridge, Ill.
One in six American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. While the early stages of the disease can be treated with radiation and chemotherapy, a range of therapies exist to treat advanced forms of the disease, including surgery.
“Saving one’s life – particularly with cancer that’s in progress and not responsive to treatment – can save the world,” said Dr. Jay Gregory, chief of the Department of Urology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Gregory is not involved in the campaign.
Men that share RAINN’s mission have joined him to help re-brand prostate cancer and figure out how to convey the confusing message that the disease is a progressive path toward death for more than half of its victims. The organization is reaching out to faith-based leaders, sex-positive activists and even survivors of colon cancer to discuss ways to make the message more clear.
We recognize that as a country we’re still in the latter stages of defining the word cancer,” Gregory said. “That’s why I think education is the most important part in terms of stopping cancer in its tracks.”
RAINN is pushing for men and women to get tested earlier by asking if they have symptoms of the disease – symptoms that could range from incontinence to feeling very tired. The organization is also urging patients to get preventive surgery, which can be most successful if it is recommended ahead of the time of diagnosis, Gregory said.
A cancer diagnosis alone does not mean the end of life expectancy, Gregory added. “If you have what we call aggressive prostate cancer and the treatment is treated and the cancer is put into remission, that isn’t necessarily the end of a person’s life.”
Silverman, of RAINN, said that side effects can include bone pain, impotence, incontinence and need for frequent urination. But she said most men will eventually be able to have an erection. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s something that people just have to get over,” she said.
Prostate cancer is traditionally considered a heterosexual disease, but RAINN’s campaign, at least in Chicago, is focused on lowering barriers for gay and bisexual men and other men of all sexualities to discuss the disease. Silverman said that during the discussion on how to tackle prostate cancer, the topic of intergenerational issues and how early-stage cancer treatment affects families arose. RAINN is also reaching out to the gay, bisexual and transgender community to ask them how the campaign can be optimized, for example by opening it up to them or to youth with questions, Silverman said.
“LGBTQ people are higher risk, in general, for prostate cancer,” Gregory said. “Yet there’s been far less attention paid to this than to breast or colon cancer or to getting your colon checked at an early age.”
“They’re here and they’re at risk,” he added. “The most common thing people ask after being diagnosed is what they can do.”
For more information, visit RAINN’s Facebook page here.