by Rachel Furniss
Men’s Health Week, which is running from 12-18 June this year, has been a good opportunity for us as a Health Team to refresh how we are supporting gentlemen with health concerns that are specific to their sex.
Talking testicles and prostates isn’t always easy, but by working in a way that makes sense to the people we support we aim to share important messages about checking for signs of cancer and accessing health services that could save someone’s life.
This was exactly what happened recently when I visited a MacIntyre Hub for a session with some gentlemen we support. Initially the men in the group weren’t keen to discuss their health and wellbeing. They didn’t know what an NHS Health Check was and thought that they only visited their GP if they were ill.
Health checks and GP appointments
I explained about Health Checks and GP appointments generally, including what reasonable adjustments can be made (for example a downstairs room, home visit, easy read information, longer appointment times and chaperones) to make it easier for a person with a learning disability to see their GP.
I asked the group if they ever asked their GP why they were checking things like their blood pressure or doing a blood test. A gentleman in the group said:
I trust the GP to do these things. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t have to.
So I asked:
Would you allow the GP to examine/touch your testicles?
All of the gentlemen became shy at that point, so we continued the conversation by talking about what each man in the group calls their testicles. We had some great suggestions and giggles before settling on ‘balls’, which seemed to make everyone more comfortable and feel able to open up.
Looking after my balls
At MacIntyre we love Books Beyond Words, and for this session I’d brought ‘Looking after my balls’ with me to share with the gentlemen at the Hub. Everyone was really responsive to the book, so I asked them again if they’d allow their doctor to examine/touch their balls. Again everyone said no and they didn’t know why the GP would need to.
One gentleman, Andrew, then opened up and said:
I check my balls to make sure they don’t have cancer.
I asked Andrew if he had ever had a GP check his balls and he said:
Yes I have. It wasn’t a problem. The GP knew what he was feeling for. Then he showed me how to check myself.
Thanks to Andrew, the other gentlemen in the group started to ask questions and it was a good opportunity for peer discussion. Hub staff joined in to share their experiences around having their balls/testicles checked and this started to normalise the conversation.
Tips for men on checking their balls/testicles
- Do a self-check of balls/testicles in the shower (as illustrated in ‘Looking after my balls’) and feel for what is normal. Balls/testicles are generally lumpy and bumpy but a new hard lump or pain are amongst the warning signs of a problem, as illustrated in this Checking Card. NHS Lanarkshire have an easy read resource that explains more about checking balls/testicles.
- Check balls/testicles when alone if that makes doing it more comfortable.
- Found something different? Parents, your partner, home staff, day staff or someone else you trust can all help, and your privacy will always be maintained by MacIntyre professionals.
- Don’t be afraid to see a GP with any concerns. For checks of balls/testicles, a man might feel more comfortable with a male GP. Ask the doctor’s receptionist if this is possible.
Weeing lots? Getting up to wee more at night?
We went on to talk about prostate checks, and how needing to wee lots or getting up to wee more at night can be a sign of a man’s prostate getting bigger – find out more in this easy read guide from Prostate Cancer UK.
We talked about what the prostate gland is and where it is in the body (it’s examined by the doctor putting a finger into your bottom), and a member of staff shared their reassuring experience of having a prostate check with their GP. If someone you support needs to have a prostate check, you may find this NHS easy read resource useful to share.
Did you know that men need to check their breasts?
Our group of gentlemen didn’t know this, and many Hub staff weren’t aware of this either. We discussed (and had a fully clothed demonstration!) of how to check your breasts, and talked about what the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men are as documented by the NHS and with more pictures by US website Breast Cancer Hub (scroll down for the Breast Self-Exam for Him).
The key message from our group
Learn how to check yourself, and don’t be afraid to speak up or see a doctor if you find something different.
Lots of the things we find will be normal, but it’s best to check if we think something isn’t right.
More men’s health support
This DIY Man MOT is a useful guide for supporting gentleman to think about the key health checks that need to be done regularly. For everyone supported by MacIntyre, the use of the Health Calendar helps staff to pick up any changes in the health of every person we support quickly.
Need help to talk about personal health topics?
By Rachel Furniss, MacIntyre's Health and Wellbeing Facilitator