I've got a wee problem. I feel a bit awkward talking about it, so I hope you'll forgive me.
When I call organisations' wellness managers, HR managers or health and safety managers to see how receptive they might be to me – a male Māori testicular cancer survivor coming in to talk to their male Māori and Pacific employees about men's cancers, they quite often say "thanks but no thanks, I've already spoken to them about that and there wasn't a great response".
As it's quite often women managers I'm talking to, I'm wondering whether it feels uncomfortable for them, too?
Perhaps, instead of me pointing out the difficulties with this, we can reflect on some words from the Ministry of Health's Cancer Action Plan 2019-2029, which emphasise the importance of a culturally competent workforce that is responsive and well placed to meets the needs of its people.
The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, states in the plan's foreword: "to achieve equitable health outcomes, people with different levels of advantage require different approaches and resources".
It's a lot easier for people to open up about issues if the person talking to them is from their own background, from the same "social tribe"; in short - someone like them.
In New Zealand almost 600 men die from prostate cancer each year, with the Māori prostate cancer mortality rate more than 1.5 times that of non-Māori. Māori are 28 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 52 per cent more likely to die from it than non-Māori.
Despite improvements in survival for all men diagnosed after 2000, the survival gap between Māori and non-Māori men has not been reduced over time. The most likely explanations for this are that Māori aren't as aware of the issue and have a cultural reluctance to do anything about it.
I'm on a mission to do something about this. By letting me in the door, my words may reach the men put in the "too hard basket", and may help with workplace productivity, too. Multiple studies have found that men are receptive to health education in the workplace, providing they are delivered by health professionals or cancer survivors.
By reaching these men, cancers could be detected earlier, enabling companies to retain staff, getting them back to work faster and reducing the chances of poor productivity due to a late diagnosis. People in good health do better work.
Radical prostatectomy, as a surgical treatment for prostate cancer, results in a period of postsurgical convalescence with consequences on men's ability to work lasting up to 12 months after surgery.
There are other tools at an organisation's disposal. There's Kupe – a decision support website to help men or their whanau members decide if they should get a prostate cancer check: www.kupe.net.nz.
We know that men, for the most part, greatly value their employment. It brings them mana, confers a sense of purpose and brings in the bacon. If they don't feel their workplace will support them around health matters, they're not going to be in a hurry to talk about them. It's vital to offer a culturally and environmentally safe workspace.
I was dismayed when Henry (not his real name), a 67-year-old factory worker, told me recently he'd been followed into the bathroom by his boss, who thought he was being lazy because he'd had to go so many times. He didn't believe Henry when he told him he had to go. He was made fun of by his co-workers who spotted him, too.
They stopped laughing when Henry later told them he'd been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
So, managers, here's the challenge: Do you want to be part of the reason why there are health inequities in New Zealand, or do you want to be part of the solution?
Blue September is coming to an end, but prostate and testicular cancers are not.
• Jo Stafford is the head of equity and culture - Homecare Medical. He is also the chair at the Ministry of Health Cancer Consumer NZ and the Māori representative with the Ministry of Health: Prostate Cancer Equity & Public Information Working Group.