Falling into the traps of masculine invulnerability – Guest post by Bob LeDrew

Posted by on Jun 21, 2013 in aging, men | 17 comments

I’ve been trying to recruit the guys to guest post on Flashfree ever since I started this blog. And my pleas have fallen on deaf ears, save for one or two brave souls. Speaking of brave souls, I am truly blessed to call fellow writer Bob Le Drew a friend. Not only is he extremely talented, but, his self awareness and ability to overcome the trappings of masculinity appear to have paid off. He has a few insights for the men in your lives that you might wish to share and, you may learn a thing or two as well. I did!

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Human trace

I don’t like restaurant bathrooms with red walls. Once you’ve had bladder cancer, you tend to look closely at your urine stream, and those red walls give it a rosy hue that normally signifies nothing good.

I discovered something about myself seven years ago, when I first saw blood in my urine. I went to my clinic immediately, where my nurse practitioner saw me and  recommended urinalysis. The first round didn’t find anything. But when it recurred a few weeks later, we found findings concerning enough to go further, and I was a new citizen of Cancerland.

But I’m not, apparently, your typical male.There’s a significant body of research that shows men are less likely to seek out help for physical and psychological problems than are women. That can lead to serious consequences — as serious as death, when heart attack symptoms are ignored until the infarction is catastrophic.

So what’s WRONG with us, guys? I’ve got a couple of theories.

#1: When men are young, we’re invulnerable. I was somewhat immunized by that by losing a brother when I was 13 and he was 19. But in general, our attitude as teenagers and in our twenties is “What could happen to us?” unless we or someone we love are diagnosed with something serious. In my case, my dad had been diagnosed with bladder cancer a number of years before mine showed up (he went on to have five primary cancers and live with them for 20 years before dying just short of his 87th birthday). His experience, and his sharing of information with me, made me realize that I couldn’t just pass off the bloody pee as “nothing.”

#2: We cling to our youth and our invulnerability. When I ride my bike, I still want to push my body as hard as I can, and even though I don’t train as hard as I used to, my decreased ability to climb steep hills with speed and grace is an ongoing frustration. Same thing with staying up late and eating poorly. The lessons we teach ourselves in youth are hard to unlearn.

#3: Part of our self-esteem and self-worth is tied to not seeking help. In Stephen King’s novel Bag of Bones, hero Mike Noonan says he’s the kind of guy who’d drown silently rather than call out for help. Isn’t that true of so many of us as men?

Several years after my cancer experience, I found myself facing a serious depression. I denied that things were not going well for me psychologically. I didn’t seek help. Why would I, when “everything was fine.” And I continued to deny the reality of my depression until I hit a painful, damaging, and nasty wall. Our love for physical invulnerability is only matched by our firm belief that admitting we’re not coping well is the LAST thing a man should do.

The temptation to ignore or deny symptoms of depression or stress is one I continue to struggle with.

And of course, none of this addresses the issue of access to services. I live in Canada, and have ready access to free medical care, as well as group insurance that subsidizes the cost of dental, psychological, and other types of medical services. I can only guess that having to pay for medical services in tough economic times would make men even more likely to “tough it out” and save scarce resources for “more important” things.

I was lucky. Twice. My bladder cancer was “superficial” — a good thing. With some minor surgical fixes, I have been physically healthy for the last several years. And thanks to talk therapy, a supportive partner, treatment, and medication, I am able to manage my mental health pretty well.

So if you, like me, are closer to retirement age than high-school graduation, don’t fall victim to the traps of masculine invulnerability. Your body, your mind — and your loved ones — will thank you for it.


About Bob LeDrew

Bob LeDrew is principal consultant at Translucid Communications in Ottawa (Ontario, not Kansas). He’s been doing communications in one form or another since 1987, and in addition to his consulting work, teaches regularly at Algonquin College and Eliquo Training and Development. He’s also the creator of The Kingcast, a podcast dedicated to his favorite writer, Stephen King. He enjoys cycling, animation, whisky, and playing guitar. He usually only does a maximum of two of those at one time.




  1. 6-21-2013

    Absolutely brilliant. Damn you Bob LeDrew! Now I like you even more than I already did!! 🙂

    • 6-21-2013

      @belllindsay Always a bit unnerving to open up on more personal matters than bloviate about social media, but gratifying when you get responses like that. Thank you, LB.

  2. 6-21-2013

    I knew there had to be some reason to love, respect and admire @bobledrew .  Now I’ve got one.

    • 6-21-2013

      @JonAston Awright, enough fawning; what are YOUR thoughts about male invulnerability, Mr. A?

  3. 6-21-2013

    Eloquent. While I know you were talking about the macho men out there, I know a lot of women who behave the same way.

    • 6-21-2013

      Thank you, @andreabona Interesting to speculate on whether there are personality traits or types that we might classify as “male” or “masculine”  that also appear in women and are associated with not seeking help.

  4. 6-21-2013

    So glad you’re ok now and beautiful post. I must be part male because I’m horrible about seeking help for medical problems.

    • 6-21-2013

      Thank you, Maggie. @maggielmcg I think, as I mentioned to Andrea below, that it would be interesting to look at whether there are personality traits that cross gender lines that are associated with this.

  5. 6-21-2013

    What a wonderful post @bobledrew – your advice is excellent for anyone, but I know for people of our generation, it still falls a lot more into these gender lines. And think on this – your biking is still about 1000% more exercise than I get ever, so you’re doing great.  I gotta get on that.

    • 6-21-2013

      @AmyVernon I thought you got all your exercise chasin’ down free-range bacon! Thank you, Ms. V.

  6. 6-21-2013

    @bobledrew You never cease to amaze me. Seriously. True vulnerability is difficult for most people, but especially men. While I don’t like what you had to go through to learn this, it is a gift to not only you, but to those who love you. Yeah, I guess you could count me in that crowd. I won’t admit it again, though, Pepe!!  Ha. And, keep SMAC!-ing that stupid bladder cancer, bro!

    • 6-21-2013

      @jenniferwindrum I didn’t really need a self-esteem booster shot this morning, or at least I didn’t think I did. But man. I’m gonna have to go through doors sideways! If you’re gonna have to go through crap, you might as well try and derive wisdom from it, right? Thank you

  7. 6-21-2013

    Bob – truly want to thank you again for your candor. I think that this is a critical issue and one that men need to hear and be reminded of. Sometimes, we all need to stop hiding behind our masculinity and take care of ourselves.

    • 6-21-2013

      @Liz I’m happy that you opened the door so it all could tumble out of my head, where it apparently had been rattling around for some time!

  8. 6-22-2013

    My dad died of a heart attack at 50. My mom always had to fight with him to get him to take his medications and go to his treatments. Men can be hard-headed. That said, when I got diagnosed with hypertension, I didn’t feel as invulnerable as I thought I was. It made me realize for the first time that something out there can get me if I sleep on it. 
    Not gonna be hard-headed. I eat better now and take my little medicine pill every day. I’m gonna be a famous filmmaker and hit the red carpet with supermodels – gotta stay well until that happens.Oh, and then there’s my little girl and Mrs. Perez. Them, too 🙂 Nicely written.

  9. 6-22-2013

    Two parents dead in their early 50s, both grandparents, a sister with depression and once cancer scare already. Yeah, I have some issues on my mind. That’s why we founded The Roaring Forties Boardriders and are committed to blokes my age getting together and getting the help they need when they need it. Here is a post I wrote – http://roaringfortiesboardriders.com/blog/2013/6/16/it-all-started-when. Thanks for sharing your story mate. Appreciate it.

  10. 7-12-2013

    Bob – thank you for writing this piece – your theory number three strikes a very resonant chord for me. Any and all kickstarters to both men and women talking to each other about their experiences are more helpful than you could possibly know.


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