One woman is determined to make sure cultural concerns don’t stop Asian men from caring for their prostates. A Chiropractic doctor and health educator, she’s found a cunning way to spread the word.
Blue September is prostate cancer awareness month and the message is that early detection saves lives. English speakers are hearing it OK but men in our Asian communities seem to be missing out.
Sarkaw Mohammad is determined to make sure the message gets through.
Dr Mohammad is the clinical director of the Hillcrest Spinal Centre. You may ask what spines have to do with prostate cancer, and the answer is not a lot, but for Dr Mohammad, it’s about wanting to help men within her South Asian community overcome their issues around health screening – especially for prostate cancer.
“Everything carries a stigma, you’re very worried to lose face,” says Dr Mohammad.
“If you’ve got the “C” word, that’s a big thing, especially in the South Asian communities.
"It’s considered something you don’t want to discuss. You want to ignore it until it hits you. We want to make people do something about it before it becomes serious.”
In 2015, Dr Mohammad and Sikh Community Leader Jay Randhawa co-founded the I AM HE(R) Charitable Trust.
The Trust makes educational videos and raises funds to tackle various issues affecting their South Asian communities, such as depression or gender inequity. And then prostate cancer came to their attention.
It's the number one male cancer in this country, with one man diagnosed with prostate cancer every three hours – that’s 8 every day and 3,000 every year. 600 men will die annually.
The solution? Give prostate cancer the finger in eight different South Asian languages
The Trust filmed eight male Asian doctors across New Zealand, each explaining in their own languages (Urdu, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Telugu, Malayalam and English) exactly why Asian men should overcome that stigma and give prostate cancer the finger.
Dr Mohammad and Jay Randhawa's goal is to save lives but to do that, they need money.
Enter Graeme Woodside, the CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
“We thought this is a really strategic opportunity to reach into a community that quite frankly we haven’t been able to reach into without any success. We don’t have anybody on our staff of Asian background. It’s also to do with our limited resourcing. We haven’t resourced this area but what this project has done is open up our eyes to see the potential to replicate this across other language groups and ethnic communities across New Zealand.”
“With prostate cancer, you’re talking about something really personal. It’s to do with men’s sexuality. Here’s an opportunity to open this up.”
Graeme Woodside says they want to reach more than just men with the campaign; they want to talk to women and spouses who are concerned about the health of their menfolk.
“They will be a conduit for getting the information to the men who may be a little bit shy about dealing with this issue.
When she recalls the process of filming, Dr Mohammad says she really wanted to appeal to the various communities through humour and fun and to ease their fears about digital rectal exams.
“We tell them it actually starts off with a blood test. We’ve said this in the different languages – please get the blood test done first, it is easy.
"Man up – don’t die of embarrassment – give prostate cancer the finger!”
But when you translate this slogan into certain languages, it turns out to be a bit rude.
“One of the younger doctors said to me ‘Look, I can’t tell the elderly in my community to man up, it’s just really rude’ and so he came up with something more subtle - be brave, find courage.
But sometimes it needs to be harsh, a wake-up call.”
If you or your loved ones want to give the finger to prostate cancer, you can call 0800 4Prostate, 0800 477 678.