When you talk to men about preventive health care, you will more than likely hear a similar sentiment: “real” men don’t need health checkups. As all of the men you are about to meet will attest to, they never saw getting health screenings as something that they needed to do, especially if they were feeling fine. Many men feel the same way and may even fear that seeing a doctor for a checkup when they are not ill could be perceived as being “unmanly” or “weak.”
But the truth is, many of the leading causes of death in men, such as heart disease and cancer, can be prevented or detected early enough for treatment by simple screenings and yearly checkups. And instead of feeling shamed for a checkup that they didn’t need, men can feel empowered with access to the medical information they need to stay healthy—and live longer.
Is there anything unmanly about that?
Auburn resident Bruce Keidel, an adjunct professor at Delta College and a mechanical inspector, thought he was in the clear when his doctor told him that his chances for colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of death from cancer, were low. But on the recommendation of another doctor, he decided to have a colonoscopy at age 60, just in case.
And the result? Stage 3 colon cancer.
“I had no symptoms,” says Keidel. “It was my first colonoscopy.”
Although Keidel was shocked by the cancer diagnosis, he was also grateful that the screening had caught the cancer early enough for him to seek treatment. He underwent surgery with surgeon George Zainea, MD, and Medical Oncologist Syed Hassan, MD, at MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland to remove part of his colon, and he then completed chemotherapy.
“Between the two [procedures], it took care of it (Keidel’s cancer),” says Keidel. “It’s been about four years, and I’m cancer-free.”
Keidel continues the yearly checkups he started at age 50, and credits his preventive screenings for catching many other potential problems that he wasn’t aware of. His doctor also discovered that he had high cholesterol, low B12 vitamin levels, and a clogged carotid artery.
Today, Keidel knows the importance of never missing a checkup.
“Even if I’m feeling good, I just go,” he says. “I see the results are a lot better this way. You set a date and time and you go.”
Keidel also encourages everyone to get regular checkups and health screenings.
“Even if you’ve got a good running engine in your car, you should make sure it’s tuned up properly,” he says. “If you run too long without an oil change, it creates havoc [on your car]. It’s the same thing; if you go for these checkups, they can tell ahead of time if there’s a problem.”
Lom Poungthana was a man who never believed in doctors.
“I thought I was bulletproof and healthy,” says Poungthana, a Saginaw resident.
He saw no need for new-fangled checkups or a reliance on the medical world. However, at the age of 44, he had his first checkup with his primary care doctor, Sajeda Nusrat, MD, of Saginaw—and got a few surprises.
“I got checked,” says Poungthana. “It was just a yearly checkup, and I found that everything in the world was wrong with me: high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and one thing after another.”
Poungthana was shocked by the results of the checkup that he admits he simply got because his “insurance was paying for it.” His checkup showed health problems ranging from the beginning stages of diabetes to severe hypertension.
But he took the results of his health screening for the wake-up call that it was—and turned his life around. He decided, in his own words, to “get busy living or get busy dying.”
Poungthana, following doctor’s orders for the first time in his life, took charge of his own health. He started eating better and exercising regularly, losing 50 pounds over the course of about a year and a half. He started taking medication to control his blood sugar, but thanks to his weight loss and improved diet habits, he is now almost completely off his blood sugar medications.
“I’m alive and kicking and feel a lot better,” he says.
And now the man who once thought he was bulletproof is an advocate for men taking charge of their own health.
“Get your regular checkups, follow your doctor’s orders, and change your attitude,” Poungthana says. “You can sit there and be in the state of denial, or you can find the problem and face it. Live or die, and I choose to live.”
For the majority of his life, Cyril, or Cy, Brefka, a Linwood resident, was what you would call a “man’s man.” With experience in the military, combat, law enforcement, and even as a first responder, Brefka felt he was “infallible.” When he retired from his job as a millwright, he didn’t see a doctor for several years, until one day he decided to get a physical with his family doctor, Janet T. Guisinger, MD, of Bay City, on a random whim. And he found out that he was in the early stages of prostate cancer.
Through careful monitoring after his initial diagnosis, Brefka’s doctors were able to pinpoint when his cancer warranted treatment, and as a result, acted quickly to save his life. He completed a course of radiation therapy treatment with Michael Cappelli, MD, at St. Mary’s Seton Cancer Institute in Saginaw, and was able to avoid chemotherapy or surgical treatment.
Today, Brefka wonders why he didn’t start his health screenings sooner.
“I should have taken care of myself,” he says. “I should have been a lot more conscious of it.”
But as an older male, he is aware that it can be difficult for men to admit that they need to get into their doctors’ offices.
“I think a lot of men don’t think it is necessary [to get regular screenings],” he admits. “I was like that for years; I felt strong and I didn’t realize these things can sneak up on you without any symptoms.”
Brefka’s brush with cancer didn’t just affect him—it also changed the life of those around him, like his significant other, who, inspired by his checkups, had her own screening and was found to have stage 1 lung cancer.
“Cancer has made me more aware to live life to the fullest because you don’t really know what can cut your life short,” says Brefka simply. “Going through this experience and reaching the age of 70 on my next birthday, I’ve come to the realization that I’m not superman.”
Mike Kanuszewski, a Saginaw resident and retired General Motors employee, considers himself one of the lucky ones.
“I wasn’t going to the doctor every year,” he admits. “I probably went every two years or so for a physical. I was healthy [and] I always felt good.”
Kanuszewkski calls himself a “typical male” who didn’t go to the doctor unless he was sick. But he was encouraged by his wife, an RN, to start more regular health screenings. After starting regular yearly checkups in his early 40s, Kanuszewski recognized that preventive health screenings were an easy way to detect problems before they started.
And he was right—even after a physical exam showed no problems with his prostate, Kanuszewski’s blood work painted a different story.
His prostate-specific antigen level was a startlingly high 20.2, which, as Kanuszewski remembers, prompted him to do his own research.
“I got on the computer and said, ‘I’m dead,’” he says. “It was unnerving news to get.”
Today, Kanuszewski recommends that all men schedule yearly checkups with their care providers.
“I would have gone a year or even three [without going to the doctor], because I had no symptoms whatsoever,” he explains. “But I had a fast-growing cancer, so my urologist and oncologist agreed that I had developed the cancer within six months, so I would have been in bad shape [if I would have waited].”
Kanuszewski is still undergoing regular monitoring from his doctors, and explains that he is not cancer-free just yet. His next step, after visiting his oncologist, Paul Kocheril, MD, and his urologist, Aditya Bulusu, MD, both doctors at Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, will most likely be hormone therapy.
Although he doesn’t have all the answers about his own treatment, there is one thing that Kanuszewski knows for sure: regular health screenings are a must for all men.
“Do it now,” he says adamantly. “It doesn’t hurt now and it could hurt later if you miss it (a checkup). Be proactive: If you catch it early, your chances of survival are so much greater.” •