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Father’s Day rally to raise prostate health awareness

Kassmin Williams

After losing both grandfathers and his father to prostate cancer — and receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis of his own in 2000 — Thomas Farrington has set out to spread knowledge about what he describes as a crisis in black America.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 152 men per 100,000 were diagnosed with prostate cancer between 2006 and 2010; for black men, the rate was 228 per 100,000 .

In the case of deaths due to prostate cancer, 23 men per 100,000 died from the disease during that time, while the figure for black men was 50 per 100,000 according to NCI.

NCI statistics also show that mortality for black men is two times higher than for white men, where 21.2 per 100,000 white men died from the disease between 2006 and 2010.

“It is the largest disparity for any type of major cancer, and it’s one that does not get the type of visibility and recognition that it should,” Farrington said. “A crisis of that nature should have a much higher level of visibility.”

This disparity and the lack of knowledge Farrington had about the disease at the time he was diagnosed pushed him to found the Prostate Health Education Network (PHEN) in Quincy in 2003. Nearly 300 prostate cancer survivor members across the country assist PHEN in educating black men about the risk of prostate cancer, testing for the disease and treatment options.

PHEN, which is celebrating a decade of spreading prostate cancer awareness in the black community, will host its fifth annual Father’s Day Rally Against Prostate Cancer, which has grown from a statewide initiative to a national event.

The Father’s Day rally asks pastors to recognize men and families in their congregation who have been impacted by prostate cancer and pray for them in their church service on Father’s Day, June 16.

The prayer and recognition raises awareness about prostate cancer and offers a community of support to men who tend to deal with prostate cancer alone, Farrington said.

“Many times, men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and prostate cancer survivors, they suffer in silence, and that’s one of the biggest issues,” Farrington said.

The event came out of PHEN’s African-American Prostate Cancer Disparity Summit in Washington, D.C., which began in 2005 and focuses on impacting national policy.

“We needed something to really impact at the grassroots level, so that’s the reason we started the Father’s Day rally, to be able to reach out into the community and impact and educate,” Farrington said.

The first year, PHEN partnered with about 30 churches in Massachusetts, and the group launched the national initiative in 2010.

Last year, about 200,000 people participated. PHEN hopes to bring that number to close to a million this year and has added a second event to open this year’s rally.

Church partners will host PHEN educational symposiums in six states, including Massachusetts, on June 15.

The symposium in Massachusetts will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Twelfth Baptist Church, 150-160 Warren St. in Roxbury.

The Twelfth Baptist Church has participated in the rally since its inception in 2009.

Church pastor and prostate cancer survivor Arthur Gerald Jr. said he has seen several men from the church visit doctors and find out they have prostate cancer after attending a rally.

Partnering with churches for the rallies also brings in the element of faith, Farrington said, to help people stricken with prostate cancer overcome the mental and emotional challenges associated with the disease.

“Fear is a big issue with prostate cancer,” Farrington said. “With any cancer, it’s fear and you’ve got to have that element of faith that’s going to help you get through and face cancer with success. A lot of time if you don’t have that, the psyche part of facing cancer can be overwhelming.”

Along with the goal to raise awareness of prostate cancer in the black community, Farrington has a personal goal of his own: to break the chain of prostate cancer deaths in his family.

Farrington, who had a recurrence of prostate cancer in 2009 but treated it successfully, is also an example of the impact of prostate health education.

“Knowledge is your best defense,” Farrington said. “Without doing what I’m doing and my knowledge, I never would’ve known that [treatment] existed.”

To participate in PHEN’s Father’s Day Rally Against Prostate Cancer visit, click on Massachusetts on the map at the top of the webpage, and then click on “PHEN’s Father’s Day Rally Church Partners” for a list of participating churches.