The Intersection between Faith and Health: Learning from Prostate Cancer Outreach

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It was on a cold Sunday. The roads were snowy. Traffic was   ubiquitous. At 7pm, I took my gray jacket, turned on my car, and headed to a local African Pastor in the area.

A member of his church referred me to him. Apparently, he was a well-known pastor in the community. As an outreach worker in the African community, I raised awareness on Prostate Cancer among African-born men.

I parked my Camry near a building and then walked toward his house. I arrived and his children welcomed me. I then waited for Pastor Musa who came down the stairs and guided me towards his dining table. A quick introduction occurred. I then elaborated on the reasons of my visit.

I explained that I was running a program intended to raise awareness on prostate cancer among African immigrants and to promote the different services provided by our agency. According to the American Cancer Society, “black men are 60% more likely than white men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime, and are more than twice as likely to die from the disease” stated Durado Brooks.

In addition, he added, “black men are also diagnosed at a younger age (about 3 years younger on average) and are more likely to have “high-grade” tumors – the kind of tumors that grow rapidly, spread to other parts of the body, and often cause death.”

As a typical African immigrant, he was very welcoming, especially to strangers. He was very open and willing to give me access to his community. Regrettably, it all came under one warning: I would not speak about Prostate Cancer. “I am a man of God and I do not want to push my members to worry about something that is in the hands of God” as he stated.

Now, imagine the purpose of my visit is to raise awareness on Prostate Cancer within his community and I just learned I could not do it. I then thought another African leader blinded by his faith, leading a whole community in a dogmatic path.

It is arguable that the stance of this pastor was predictable. But, my experience thus far has shown me that he is not atypical within the African immigrant community. In reality, over the past few months, I have met many like him, frankly too many.

All the surveys that I have conducted persistently show that some of these communities need some type of help. Many of the participants do not have insurance, have not seen a health care provider for years and admitted to not feeling well.

Even though, I clearly indicated during each outreach that I could connect the participants to health care providers, most participants opt for this constant cycle of inertia. In the midst of all this, one cannot forget that “religion is an amazing phenomenon that plays contradictory roles in people’s lives. It can destroy or revitalize, put to sleep or awaken, enslave or emancipate, teach docility or teach revolts’ as famously stated by muslim scholar Al- Shariati.

The adaptation to a new cultural norm is burdensome. With all the competing priorities, taking care of one’s health is not always a priority. In addition, many migrated from countries where preventive care is not part of the cultural lexicon.

Nonetheless, we cannot forget it. More Africans are living longer. Consequently, many will suffer from prostate cancer or some other type of cancer. The sooner it is detected, the better chance of living a much more fulfilling life. Unfortunately, this vibrant culture of self-medication, stigmatization and denial endure. Even worse, blinded by faith, ignorance continue to dictate the norms within our society, even for those who have left their hometown.

NB: The original name of the Pastor was changed for privacy reasons. 

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