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As men across the country are celebrated as fathers on Sunday, Dana-Farber is helping assure that many of them are also recognized in another way: as prostate cancer survivors.
As part of an effort spearheaded by the Prostate Health Education Network (PHEN) – founded by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Trustee Thomas Farrington – churches nationwide will be taking part in the third annual Father's Day Rally Against Prostate Cancer on June 19. During the rally, originally started in Boston in 2009, church leaders across the country will discuss with their congregants the importance of prostate cancer screening and other measures to combat the disease. Although men of color living in the United States develop prostate cancer at a 60 percent higher rate than white men, and are twice as likely to die from it, these individuals are often unaware of how they can lessen their risk. And, once diagnosed, they are frequently too proud or embarrassed to tell others.
"One of the biggest problems with prostate cancer is silence," says Farrington, a survivor himself. "We've asked that church clergy and lay leaders recognize in their audiences all prostate cancer survivors, their family members, and the family of those who have died of the disease, and invite them to stand up, hold hands, and join in a prayer of love and healing. This will be the first time that many of these men stand up and say, 'We are survivors.'"
A day before Sunday's events – which Farrington estimates could take place in as many as 1,000 churches, up from last year's 400 – Dana-Farber health educator Mark Kennedy and general internist Jacques Carter, MD, MPH, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center will be on board the Dana-Farber Blum Family Resource Center Van at Mattapan Community Health Center offering prostate health education using an informed decision-making approach as well as free prostate cancer screenings.
This is part of ongoing outreach by Dana-Farber to combat the disease. In addition to the van's regular visits to neighborhoods around Boston, Carter, Kennedy, and Farrington lead a monthly PHEN support group meeting in Smith 308/309 attended by dozens of past and current patients.
The meetings are broken into three parts – a talk by a guest speaker, often a physician or researcher; an update from Carter on the latest research and treatment options; and then a session in which participants share their stories and fears. For men like Raymond Fuller and Irvin Paul, both prostate cancer survivors and fathers of six, the chance to check-in with kindred souls is invaluable.
"You learn to accept your situation, and discover there is support available," says Fuller. "When someone touches you and lets you know they will be there for you, that's a great feeling."
Adds Paul: "I had always thought, 'I'm the only one feeling this way.' Then I came here and realized, 'I'm not alone.' I found a home away from home."
For the past five months, that home has been hitting the road, with the Dana-Farber meetings simulcast and posted on the PHEN website for remote viewing at any time. Virtual attendees often email questions to Kennedy and Carter in real time, and the hope is that this online component will help spread the message of healing and hope far beyond Dana-Farber's walls.
To learn more about the Prostate Health Education Network, go to www.prostatehealthed.org; for more information about the Father's Day events, contact Cristina Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-487-2239.