MR. VIRGIL H. SIMONS: A THOUGHT LEADER ON RESOURCES FOR PROSTATE CANCER PATIENTS AND MEN'S HEALTH ISSUES
I had an opportunity to engage Mr. Simons in an empowering and inspiring dialogue in which he discussed, among other things, where he grew up, his role models, what moved him to create critical key “pieces of the puzzle” in the form of resources and information that empowers prostate cancer patients and their families to improve their quality of life and to make informed decisions concerning pharmacologic and surgical options available to treat prostate cancer, and the need to establish an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Who is Mr. Virgil H. Simons? Where did he grow up? Where was he educated?
“I was born and raised in Chicago, took my undergraduate degree (B.B.A) at Loyola University of Chicago, and did work on my M.B.A. at Baruch University in New York City and Felician College. I am currently working on a Master’s in Public Administration at Rutgers University. I started my career in Advertising with Sears, Roebuck & Co. and then moved into retail store management and ultimately into buying in Chicago and New York. I got involved with global sourcing which became a cornerstone of my career since that time. I left Sears and went to work for Celanese Corp. in fibers marketing and then I moved on to start a financial management group as well as an international trading company. I closed that firm and came back into the textile industry with a New York based firm, then left them to head up the North American operation for a Barcelona-based textile manufacturer.”
I asked Mr. Simons to talk about the role models he had as he made the journey from childhood to adulthood.
“First and foremost, my role models were my parents, who set a standard of expectation for me that has been part of my life. After my father’s death when I was seven, there were many models that I looked to -- uncles, teachers, and friends -- but ultimately I crafted my own persona from my readings of the Renaissance period and contemporary corporate and governmental leaders,” Mr. Simons responded.
Who or what inspires Mr. Simons?
“I am inspired by the desire to achieve the dreams that I’ve set out for myself and the memory of those who’ve contributed to my getting to where I am now in life.”
In 1996, Mr. Simons founded The Prostate Net which offers a myriad of prostate cancer resources which include, a website (http://www.theprostatenet.org), a toll-free hotline, PodCasts, WebCasts, an opt-in cell cast network, a Toll Free Hotline that provides one-on-one support, and a newsletter entitled In The Know as well as innovative public education initiatives. When I asked Mr. Simons to talk about why he decided to create The Prostate Net, he offered the following:
“When I confronted prostate cancer, I had all of the best resources available to someone diagnosed with the disease -- my own health literacy, excellent insurance coverage, access to the best doctors and facilities-- yet despite that, there was so much that I didn’t know about the treatment and management of the disease. I concluded that if I, with all that was available to me, couldn’t get the best of care, then what did someone without those resources face in dealing with their own battle with the Beast. So I started The Prostate Net as a vehicle to provide some of those resources and to provide encouragement for them to engage their doctors in those dialogues that would lead to a better standard of care.”
Let’s talk about prostate cancer and the African American community. The incidence rate for prostate cancer among African American men is at least 1-1/2 times the prostate cancer incidence rate for their Caucasian counterparts. While the mortality rate for Caucasian prostate cancer patients is declining, the mortality rate for African American prostate cancer patients has increased. Why? What role does income, lack of health insurance, diet, and the lack of or inadequate access to information concerning treatment options and health care play in the disproportionate diagnoses of and mortality rates for prostate cancer in the African American community?
“If I could answer your ‘Why?’, we’d be in a better place as a community! The reality is that although we know some of the triggers to the problem, we don’t know the definitive answers. Unquestionably, access to information and to care, limited by financial or educational factors, is a major component. But, as we have seen from clinical research, so is environment, diet, lifestyle, family and hereditary factors, and genetics. The issue that we still are trying to determine is which of these factors, or combinations, is the actual trigger that turns one person’s normal cells into ones that are cancerous,” Mr. Simons remarked.
Should one of the key pieces of the puzzle to leveling the “educational playing field” about prostate cancer in the African American community take the form of parents, educators, and religious leaders engaging young males in informative and instructive discussions about prostate cancer and other health issues? How should these informative and instructive discussions be structured? At what age should the African American community engage its young men in informative and instructive discussions concerning prostate cancer and other health issues?
“The short answer is ‘Yes!’; we need to engage our young people on the subject of health in general. The factors that initiate or accelerate cancers are also present in the onset of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and other co-morbid diseases or conditions. The more that we can become adaptive of good health habits, the better we will become overall. We have had educational programs on prostate and breast cancer for people in junior high schools because, particularly in minority communities, older children in families often take on adult-level responsibilities of raising their younger siblings, shopping for and cooking meals, etc. If we can better inform them as to health issues then they can potentially lead the whole family to a better health status,” Simons stated.
The Prostate Net has done and continues to do much to level the “educational playing field” for prostate cancer through such innovative programs as The Barbershop Initiative. Talk to us about the Barbershop Initiative. What is it? How is it administered?
“The Barber Shop Initiative is a program we envisioned back in 2003 and launched in 2004 that utilizes the credibility and opinion setting power of the barber in being able to deliver messages of health and the importance of early detection of prostate cancer to his or her clients and their communities. We work with medical centers, state health agencies, and university research centers in getting them to partner with their local barbershops in creating programs of awareness, education and/or intervention through creating a conduit of information with the barber as the catalyst and health motivator. In the four years that it has been in operation, we have recruited more than 800 barbers into active partnerships with agencies across the country; have more than 4,000 barbers distributing our information through their shops; and have established a pilot project in rural India focusing on men’s health in general.”
Mr. Simons, you and your colleagues have adopted a holistic approach to educating the African American community about prostate cancer and the resources and treatment options that are available to it through the creation of The Crowns Initiative in 2006 and its implementation in three Chicago, Illinois churches. Since that time, the Crowns Initiative has expanded to other cities. The Crowns Initiative brings women into the prostate cancer awareness and education equation. Talk to us about the Crowns Initiative. What is it? Why is it an effective prostate cancer awareness educational tool? Has it expanded?
“Empirical evidence from our various service matrices has shown that female family members -- spouses, daughters, granddaughters, etc. -- initiate the primary contact for information and/or participation in the medical system in over 62% of cases. With Black women, the involvement is even higher because of traditional roles in family leadership. In 2006 and 2008, we codified that leadership role via an educational/motivational program that strengthened the woman’s role in guiding male members of her family and/or community to become educated about the risks from prostate cancer, the increased incidence rate of advanced stage prostate cancer within the Black community and enhancing the team approach to provide support for informed decision-making by the men. The wearing of high-styled, uniquely designed, lavish hats, or ‘Crowns’, by the women in Black churches is a long-standing tradition that continues to be celebrated in books, television specials, and local fashion shows. So, we created a combination fashion event and health fair that encouraged women to bring the men in their lives – husbands, fathers, grandfathers, friends, church members, etc. – to the event wherein points were given for those attending and those who got screened. The woman with the most points received a prize for her church’s health ministry as well as a prize for a new collection of ‘crowns’ for herself. Dependent on funding support, we hope to take the program back to Chicago and expand it into Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Northern New Jersey.”
The Office Of Men’s Health Act of 2007 (H.R. 1440 and S. 640) was introduced into the First Session of the 110th Congress on 9 March 2007 for the purposes of amending the Public Health Service Act to establish an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services which would, among other things, act as an advocate for men’s health issues in the same manner that the Office of Women’s Health, which was established in 1991, advocates for women’s health issues. Prostate cancer and testicular cancer are discussed prominently in the language of The Office Of Men’s Health Act of 2007. Is the establishment of an Office Of Men’s Health necessary? Why? Would the establishment of an Office of Men’s Health Act of 2007 enhance the mission and work of organizations such as The Prostate Net? If so, how?
“Given that there are Offices of Women’s Health as well as agencies focusing on children’s issues, it is a major oversight that there isn’t one for men’s health, given the facts that men usually die at younger ages, minority men particularly tend to present health conditions at an advanced stage versus women, and that, if we want to insure cohesive, functioning family units, we need to insure that men will remain healthy enough to contribute to the family in all ways – financial, psychological, familial and in leadership. Given that the proposed Act of 2007 is probably a dead issue, we need to have a resurgence of effort from our communities to demand from their legislators at state and Federal levels an increased focus on men’s health and for increased research funds for prostate cancer particularly.”
If our readers want to learn more about The Prostate Net and how they can support this organization, what should they do?
“Your readers should go to our Website – www.theprostatenet.org – and learn about prostate cancer and pass it on to their families and friends; encourage them to use our Website and other tools that they will find there; and, for us most importantly, make a donation so that we can continue to do the work for our community,” Mr. Simons explained.
What’s next for The Prostate Net?
“We are expanding our activities around the world as part of the World Wide Prostate Cancer Coalition to deliver information on the best standards of patient centered care. These expanded activities are explored on our website at http://theprostatenet.org/wwpcc/index.html. Additionally we will be increasing our work with organizations in India, Africa and Argentina to utilize the concepts that have been successful here.”
What’s next for Virgil Simons?
“Whatever God puts in front of me.”