Rossie Newson really doesn't like visiting the doctor.
So he doesn't go. At least not very often. It's been at least five or six years.
Perhaps it simply isn't in his DNA, he says. His father didn't go to the doctor, either, until he developed Alzheimer's in his later years. "My dad used to brag about never being in the hospital until he got older."
That's just how guys are, says the 57-year-old photographer, who lives in southeast St. Petersburg. Unless there's something wrong — really wrong, and wrong for more than just a few days — a man will find plenty of reasons to put off having it checked out. And preventive screenings like colonoscopies and prostate exams? The pain just doesn't seem worth the gain … if you get his drift.
Several years ago, a rash popped up in Newson's armpit. It itched all the time, he says, even though he kept it clean and dry.
He fretted and fretted, and by the time he went to see the doctor, he had already diagnosed it himself. "It's cancer, and I'm going to lose my arm."
No, the doctor said, it's a yeast infection. She gave him a cream, and it was gone in three days.
But even that experience — worrying for nothing and getting a treatment that worked — didn't convince Newson that going to the doctor is a smart move.
Because it's expensive, he says. And it takes up your time. And more often than not, the doctor doesn't do anything. And maybe you don't want to know if there is something wrong.
Big boys don't cry
Newson is not unusual.
"Men don't get things fixed until they're really broken," says Dr. Mark Swierzewski, a urologist with Florida Urology Partners in Tampa.
When the oil light goes on in his car, a man will likely do something about it. But when it's his own body, he'll deny it or downplay it, thinking he can work through it, Swierzewski says. "It's not part of our nature to get help."
The problem is the diseases that affect men the most don't always have the most obvious symptoms, he says. At least, not for many years. So they don't know their blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar is high, or that their urine is so sugary "it's almost like syrup."
Going to the doctor becomes routine for young women, who are urged early on to see an OB/GYN regularly for a Pap test, to get birth control or pregnancy care, and later mammograms. Men don't get the same societal push, and are less likely to establish an ongoing relationship with a physician who would suggest and perhaps perform any appropriate screenings, says Dr. Julio Pow-Sang, chairman of genitourinary oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
And when they do get sick, women are more proactive; they talk about it, they join support groups. For men, "there's this culture that we've got to be tough." But having a relationship with a physician and being informed about symptoms and treatment options can offer great peace of mind, Pow-Sang says.
Improving overall care
These days, it's often a very male issue that gets a guy to finally go to the doctor: low testosterone.
He'll come in after experiencing erectile dysfunction, because he has low libido, he's moody or tired, or he's losing muscle and gaining fat.
Instead of a primary care physician, that man may go straight to a specialist: a urologist.
And that's okay: It's still an opportunity to make some headway in improving a man's overall health care, says Swierzewski, who is forwarding that cause as director of the collaborative Men's Health Services program at Florida Hospital Carrollwood.
The program provides a range of interconnected services that offer comprehensive, coordinated care from physicians who specialize in men's health. So it saves time (a major complaint for men); effort (eventually the physicians will share medical records, so the same paperwork doesn't have to be processed again and again); and provides a more familiar and more comfortable atmosphere for men (you won't find only women's magazines in the waiting room).
Swierzewski says the goal is to be seamless, so that "a man can walk in and be taken care of."
Strength in numbers
In another effort to reach out to men, the hospital held its first Man Up for Men's Health forum in June at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. The sports-themed event featured free screenings (including a golf swing assessment) and an appearance by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders.
The free event was similar to the popular Men's Health Forum presented in March by Moffitt Cancer Center and other providers, such as USF Health, St. Joseph's Hospitals, Tampa General Hospital and Tampa Family Health Centers.
Moffitt's 16-year-old forum is geared to men who are uninsured or underinsured, don't have access to regular health care or lack awareness about what is available to them. It draws hundreds every year, mostly Hispanic and African-American men in their late 40s and early 50s. They get screened, talk about smoking and other behaviors, and discuss the mixed messages about prostate cancer screening and treatment.
At this year's forum, of the 331 men who participated in the blood pressure screening, 35 percent had high blood pressure and 37 percent had prehypertension. Of the 225 men screened for skin cancer, 73 were referred for further evaluation. And 117 vouchers for prostate screenings were distributed.
Now, about the nagging
Research shows that married men whose wives get them to go to the doctor live longer. They also exercise a bit more.
Newson, a former news artist at the then-St. Petersburg Times who is single and doesn't have children, says that before his mom died, she was the one who pushed him about going to the doctor. And it's his female friends who nudge him now.
"Women just handle fear and pain and all of that better than men," he says.
But men may be catching on to the need to take care of themselves.
Millions have embraced the No-Shave November and Movember movements, giving up their razors for a month to raise awareness and money for men's health issues. And light blue could become the new pink; National Prostate Cancer Awareness month is celebrated in September with ribbons, races and a growing number of celebrity-studded fundraising events (mostly centered around sports, of course).
Attitudes are changing, says Swierzewski, who also tries to "plant the seed" with men during regular appearances on Bubba the Love Sponge's radio show.
"It took us 20-plus years to get here," he says. "And it's still a work in progress."
Contact Kim Franke-Folstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.