By Chris Lenois
When Brattleboro Memorial Hospital launched their first “BEARDS for BMH” campaign to raise awareness about men’s health issues last year, I was somewhat reluctant to participate. I had been a bearded-American for many years and enjoyed all the rights and privileges this status afforded: the assumption of masculinity, an illusion of wisdom, and leftovers for days.
My wife was even more opposed to the idea. While I’d like to think her dissent was based on admiration for the salt-and-pepper coloring of my facial hair, it’s probably closer to the truth to say she didn’t want to go through the harsh-and-stubbly phase again. I had been known to languish in that phase quite often before fully committing to growing a beard. There was no advantage in a fresh start from her perspective.
Some things are more important than a lackadaisical approach to personal grooming, however, I had recently passed that magical threshold of 40 when conventional wisdom says men need to start paying attention to our physical condition even if we’ve been relatively healthy most of our lives. This notion was reinforced when my dentist spotted a lesion on my tongue and recommended I have it checked by an oral surgeon. The subsequent biopsy found it to be non-cancerous, fortunately, but for the first time in my life I had to think about how a disease might affect my life and my family’s well-being, and how my choices positively or negatively impacted my health.
Truthfully, the potential gravity of the situation did not sink in until I shared the good news with my family and friends. The relief many of them expressed when hearing the diagnosis touched me deeply. One of the stereotypes about men is we are not comfortable openly discussing our health issues, but I am happy to report that among my circle of close male friends, there have been many conversations about doctor’s visits and the results of imaging and blood tests. Many of them are now fathers to young boys and girls and they do not take that responsibility lightly. They make regular visits to their healthcare providers and heed advice about diet and exercise.
The first fact on the “BEARDS for BMH” handout we were given said that almost 70 percent of all men find it easier to care for their cars than their own health. That made me think about the countless number of times my own father talked to me about the importance of routine oil changes and vehicle inspections; yet I cannot recall one conversation between us about when I should get my blood pressure or cholesterol checked. Here are some things I learned during last year’s campaign about keeping a man’s body from flashing its own version of the “Check Engine” light:
- Blood pressure should get checked every two years if it’s above 120/80.
- Cholesterol needs to be monitored every five years for certain medical conditions.
- Start talking to your doctor about prostate cancer when you reach age 40.
- Schedule a diabetes screening if you’re 45 or older or have high blood pressure.
- Have a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50.
The “BEARDS for BMH” campaign reboots this November 1st, so it’s likely that I will have re-joined the ranks of the clean-shaven by the time you read this. (Sorry, honey!) I’m not the only one in the community taking part, of course, and we’ll all be marking the weekly progress of our facial hair growth with photos on the BMH Facebook page. (Zach Stephens took the cool one of me accompanying this column.) If you do not want to join us, or cannot because you are follically challenged, consider making a donation to one of us. Each participant is being asked to get 10 sponsors to show we’re out there spreading the word. You’ll recognize us in the community by the “Ask Me” button on our clothes that has a blank face sporting a pretty sweet-looking beard. Stop us and we’ll be happy to share some men’s health facts with you.
Chris Lenois a bearded-American and the host of Live & Local, which airs every weekday morning from 9:00am to 12:00noon on WKVT-AM 1490.