Saturday is Aaron Sang's busy day.
At least that's what he told his wife. He couldn't leave his Aquarius Barbershop for some medical checkup she wanted him to get. He had a business to run and customers who depended on him.
But Anita Sang wouldn't listen. She insisted he sign up for Tampa's free annual Men's Health Forum three years ago and get screened for everything from vision to possible cancers. He didn't have health insurance at the time and already suffered from diabetes.
"I'm always telling him he needs to get checked," Anita says of her partner of more than 40 years. "So I made the appointment for him."
And he went, with Anita right there beside him. Everything was fine the first two years. Then an abnormal prostate screening a year ago led to a cancer diagnosis and treatment that so far has been successful.
Sang, 63, admits his tune has changed from reluctance to advocacy for a community event that has reached thousands of men with little or no health insurance. What does he tell the guys at his Tampa barbershop now? "I encourage all of them to go," the Land O' Lakes resident says with a smile.
His story is typical of the roughly 600 men who annually attend the forum, now in its 13th year, says Brian Rivers, a faculty researcher for the leading sponsor, the Moffitt Cancer Center. This year's event is March 9 at the University of South Florida's Marshall Student Center in Tampa.
"I've seen men out there lined up at 6 a.m., in the rain and cold … they come with such a sense of gratitude," he says.
Rivers, who conducts a lot of outreach to Tampa area churches and barbershops, knows that most men don't jump at the opportunity to get poked and prodded, especially around the prostate. He says that's why the one-day event, which features more than 40 community organizations, deluges participants with information.
"There is a level of fear men have when they come," he says. "It's because they don't know what to expect."
Participants vary. Some men are there simply because their wives dragged them. Others sense something's wrong and they need to know for sure. Although the event first targeted African-American men, organizers now focus on those who struggle to pay for the screenings. In 2012, 63 percent of the attendees had no health insurance at all.
Last year, 496 men attending the forum got at least one screening. Organizers said 55 men learned they had suspicious findings during a skin cancer exam; 70 were identified as being at-risk for diabetes, and another 20 who followed up with a prostate cancer screening discovered abnormal results.
"We don't want them to go to the emergency room," Rivers says. The goal is to identify an illness early and get treatment, he says.
The day includes many of the usual checks offered at health fairs: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, body mass, lung function, hearing and vision. But there also are opportunities to address depression, memory concerns, and sexually transmitted and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis.
The forum is as much about prevention as it is a chance to diagnose, Rivers says.
"Men don't go to WebMD or National Cancer Institute websites … hopefully, this will get the information out to men," he says.
BAD BOYS, WATCHA GONNA DO?
We know not all of the 151 million men and boys in this nation are on top of their health, partly because 19 percent of them have no health insurance.
It’s not until they get checked by a physician that many discover they may be at risk for or already have cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Here are some of the latest numbers on the risks adult men face, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Top Risk factors
In fair or poor health: 12.5 percent
Meet national physical activity guidelines: 52.3 percent
Currently smoke: 21.5 percent
Obese: 33.9 percent
Hypertension: 31.7 percent
Causes of death
All causes: 1,226,197
Lower respiratory disease: 67,122
Stroke-related disease: 53,525
Flu, pneumonia: 25,571
Alzheimer’s disease: 24,516
Kidney disease: 23,533
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
JUST DO IT
Men with little or no health insurance are invited to the free Men’s Health Forum from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 9 at the University of South Florida’s Marshall Student Center.
Screenings offered include blood pressure, cholesterol, HIV/AIDS/STI, skin cancer and more. Prostate cancer workshops will include the distribution of screening vouchers.
The forum also will include health education workshops, fitness demonstrations and more than 40 community exhibits. The forum is a bilingual event, with English-, Spanish- and Haitian Creole-speaking volunteers.
Admission and parking are free for the event; breakfast and lunch will be available while supplies last.
Register at www.MHFtampa.com or call 1-888-MOFFITT ((888) 663-3488) and press 5.