BRAWLEY — Months after changing to its new corporate name, the Imperial Valley Cancer Support Center co-hosted an educational luncheon for men only with the Pioneers Memorial Hospital’s Cancer Institute at the hospital in Brawley.
In April, the cancer support group of Between Women, which mainly provided services to women affected by cancer, changed its name to the Imperial Valley Cancer Support Center thereby opening its services to include men affected by cancer.
Themed “MVP All-Star Luncheon,” men and women came dressed in their favorite team’s sports jersey, shirt, or cap and were seated at tables decorated with sports memorabilia. Participants were also given the chance to win door prizes.
Executive Director Oreda Chin said the luncheon served to honor men with cancer and to inform them that they are just as important as any cancer patient. She said it was a way of showing support for the family members as well.
According to Chin, “Women always have luncheons. There’s always something for breast cancer survivors. We want to show that men get cancer too, and that they’re just as important to us as women.”
Even though the event was for men only, the women — their loved ones and caregivers — were also welcomed to the luncheon. However, they were asked to step out when cancer survivor and guest speaker Mario Ortega spoke of his experience with cancer as head of a family. Chin said this allowed the men to freely talk and discuss issues among themselves and with the guest speaker.
The women joined the men again when radiation oncologist Dr. Siavosh Vakilian gave a presentation on the three most common cancers affecting men in the United States: prostate cancer, followed by lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Dr. Vakilian emphasized the importance for men to have their regular checkups, especially when they reach the age of 50 and over.
According to Chin, men respond differently than women when diagnosed with cancer. Men often do not want their family to know they are sick because of fear of not being able to provide for the family, she said. There can also be still a stigma associated with cancer or being sick, she said. Furthermore, men seem to wait too long before getting their medical checkups. By that time, the cancer may have spread. Early checkups and early detection, according to Chin, could prevent cancer from spreading further and result in a greater survival rate.
The family of speaker Mario Ortega was twice affected by cancer. His wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and he was diagnosed in 2014. They have two young daughters.
During the time when his wife was undergoing treatment, Ortega told the audience, “I needed to be her support. We need to be there for our wife, no matter what.”
As he talked about the experience with his diagnosis and treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he urged the men to communicate with their wives or loved ones. As men, Ortega said, “We close our minds and we don’t want to talk to anyone. But we need to reach out.”
This is especially important when experiencing anxiety, weakness and fatigue resulting from treatments, he pointed out. And yet, household responsibilities still need to be met. Ortega advised men to seek help with the task of cleaning the garage, mowing the lawn or even doing the most simple chores because, “Our body doesn’t feel like it or we don’t have the energy to do anything.”
Ortega called the period during that time he was having treatments as “a very dark storm.”
“But I knew that as the sun was coming out at the end of the storm, we just have to be patient, to persevere, and to be strong; and to get to the day when the sunlight hits your face and you can feel the relief of not getting treatments anymore. The relief of being in remission and the relief of going back and being yourself again,” Ortega said.