Prostate cancer among African American men is one of the most intractable cancer disparities. African American men bear an excess burden of prostate cancer across all stages of management, including presentation, diagnosis, treatment, survival, and quality of life.
Support groups are an important and beneficial resource for people diagnosed with cancer. They offer information, education, peer-networking, and provide an opportunity for patients to share their frustrations, concerns, and fears, and minimize feelings of isolation. Historically, however, few men participate in support groups, particularly African American men. Some men may be reluctant to participate in a support group due to the discussion of sensitive or embarrassing topics (e.g., urinary and sexual dysfunction), the need to live up to the masculine role (don’t want to appear vulnerable), or they simply aren’t aware the resource exists.
Just as African American men are overrepresented in prostate cancer disparities, they are grossly underrepresented in research, which could speak to why we see few reports in the literature on African American men’s participation in cancer support groups. But perhaps this is also due to the characteristics of available support groups? Do they target African American men? Do they meet their needs? Are they culturally appropriate?
I’ve had the privilege to not only witness, but participate in, community efforts to launch a support group that is tailored to African American men with prostate cancer. This initiative was started because African American men in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area were seeking such a resource, but could not find any that were culturally relevant to meet their needs as they cope with and manage prostate cancer.
In late 2013, the Men’s Health Committee, a sub-committee of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Community Advisory Board (CAB), took on the task to develop a support group for African American men, in honor of the CAB’s fearless leader, Dr. Frank E. Staggers, Sr. In January 2014, a sub-group planning committee was formed, consisting of representatives from UCSF (including myself), the Alameda County Public Health Department, African American community leaders, and prostate cancer survivors. After several months of planning, September 2, 2014 marked our inaugural meeting of the Prostate Health Support Group for African American Men.
The support group’s mission is to provide a safe and supportive place where men can come together for dialogue and education, meeting the needs of African American men diagnosed with prostate cancer or with any prostate health issue that seeks information and support. The group meets the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month. So far, we have approximately 20 men on our roster, with a range of 5-10 men attending each session, excluding our facilitator. Over a two-hour period, men are provided information related to prostate cancer or managing their health, and have an opportunity to share their personal experiences.
We are quite proud of the extraordinary commitment of the planning committee, most of whom are unpaid volunteers (e.g., group facilitator), and the groups’ loyal members. We hope to maintain this community-driven and community-led support group to meet the needs of African American men in the Bay Area.
If you have any patients that might be interested in attending, please see details below.
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