What Lloyd Austin’s Story Tells Us About Men’s Health

“What Lloyd Austin’s Story Tells Us About Men’s Health”

By: Cassie Whyte, Men’s Health Network Contributor

 

Amidst geo-political turmoil and surging public distrust of government officials, it is easy to forget that holders of weighty, prestigious titles, such as United States Defense Secretary, are ultimately humans just like us:

humans who endure devastating health diagnoses, and must subsequently navigate the aftermath.

On December 22nd, 2023, U.S Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin underwent what doctors have since described as a “minimally invasive surgical procedure” called a prostatectomy, in hopes of treating and curing his prostate cancer.

Despite being discharged from Walter Reed on the 23rd, and ostensibly working from home the week of Dec. 24th-31st, Austin was transported via ambulance and admitted into the Walter Reed ICU the evening of January 1st, 2024.

It was not until January 5th, 4 entire work days later, that the Pentagon disclosed Austin’s continuous and mysterious absence to both the public and the President.

The statement includes the proclamation: “The public has a right to know when U.S. Cabinet members are hospitalized, under anesthesia or when duties are delegated as the result of any medical procedure;”

however, the Pentagon Press Association failed to reveal Austin’s status at the time, opting instead to speak in vague terms about a “recent elective medical procedure” and his hospitalization on January 1st, 2024.

 

 

It seems prescient that this peculiar scandal occurs against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the middle east, with the U.S retaliating against Iran-backed paramilitary group Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba on January 4th, apparently without the guidance and supervision of Defense Secretary Austin.

Suffice to say, the stakes were and are particularly high, and Austin neglected to impart essential information through the necessary channels in a time of crisis.

But why? What compels a distinguished leader to act in such a manner?

Anyone who knows the first thing about men’s, and specifically black men’s complicated relationship to their health is not only unsurprised by this unfolding of events, but also readily sympathetic to it.

Men have a proclivity to withhold information about their health. They feel compelled to downplay and de-emphasize their health struggles, or, in other words…

“pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” “take it on the chin,” remain the “strong, silent type…”

… and a myriad of other idioms which ultimately boil down to this: toughen up, get over it. Boys are overwhelmingly socialized to adhere to this standard, and those boys later grow up to become men who do not know how to operate any other way.

 

 

This tendency is often amplified for men in positions of power, as well as within the black community.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men in the United States, and black men are disproportionately more likely to be diagnosed. According to ZERO Prostate Cancer, “Black men are 1.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with—and 2.1 times more likely to die from—prostate cancer than white men.” While there is some evidence to support a genetic component in this disparity, most medical experts believe that lack of access to healthcare, lower screening rates, and a refusal to actively seek help are much more significant factors.

There is still a ubiquitous and pervasive stigma surrounding prostate cancer.

The unfortunate truth is that many men will put off screening or treatment until it is too late. Men find the topic embarrassing and indicative of some weakness, avoiding discussion of it at all costs. This obfuscation, however, only serves to further the stigma surrounding men’s health, while also endangering the men most at risk.

It almost works as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is our duty as men’s health advocates to put a stop to this pernicious cycle.

It is easy to look at the case of Lloyd Austin with an air of bewilderment, condescension, or even disdain. After all, he did functionally abandon post as Defense Secretary at a distinctly crucial point in history. But those who are targeting and tormenting Austin are, in a way, only proving his point. We expect men to handle earth shattering health complications in a completely stoic and rational way, and then we deride them for failing to discuss their conditions with perfect openness and transparency.

Austin was caught in this double bind, and he acted accordingly.

The case of Lloyd Austin is a perfect storm of compounding factors. As a military man, Lloyd wanted to maintain a reputation of strength and perseverance. As a black man, Lloyd is not only predisposed to prostate cancer, but may be skeptical of the healthcare system due to historical mistreatment.

And as a man generally, Austin was less inclined to prioritize his own well-being.

Ultimately, men, more than anything, do not want to be a burden.

They want to protect, to provide, and to be of service to others.

 

 

They have wrongly been taught that the only way to do this is to disregard their own suffering. We must assure them, even the most powerful and successful among them, that this is never, ever the case, and is often very much so the opposite. Lloyd Austin’s story is a quintessential testament to this.

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