By his own admission, Darryl ‘‘The Big Marn’’ Brohman is not a picture of health.
Yet the very fact that, like most Australians, he could do with more exercise and a better eating regime makes the rugby league funnyman a top ambassador for the message he is promoting.
And the 56-year-old’s message, aimed squarely at men, is to encourage them to visit their GP for a blood test.
Brohman’s message comes from personal experience. Two years ago, the 2GB broadcaster and presenter on the Nine Network's Footy Show went to the doctor with chest pains. Turns out he had a not so sinister case of indigestion.
However the routine blood test, which accompanied the visit, revealed something else of a potentially serious nature. Brohman had elevated levels of prostate-specific antigen.
A subsequent biopsy showed the father-of-four had prostate cancer. He had surgery in August 2010 and has since made a full recovery.
Brohman, nicknamed ‘‘The Big Marn’’ for his large frame, discovered post-surgery that other men – ‘‘mates of mates of mates’’ – were constantly ringing, emailing and texting him to talk about prostate cancer.
‘‘I had that many blokes ringing me to say they didn’t want to have the operation because of concerns they couldn’t get an erection afterwards,’’ Brohman said.
Yet Brohman set the record straight with his characteristic humour: ‘‘I would say: ‘Mate, would you rather be soft above the ground or hard below it’?.’’
Brohman was in Wollongong this month to promote ahm Check It, a free men’s health screening event next Saturday at the WIN Entertainment Centre (WEC) from 11am to 4pm.
Illawarra men will be able to undertake a variety of individual screenings, blood tests and other assessments for conditions such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes, and seek advice and information on depression, anxiety, stress, alcohol and drug dependency.
Guest speakers will include retired football player and former captain of the Socceroos Paul Wade, cricketing legend Doug Walters and Dr Rahul Rindani from South Coast Urology.
There will also be exhibitors on hand to provide information and kits containing useful messages about healthy living.
Brohman, the former Queensland, Penrith and Bulldogs forward, who describes himself as a ‘‘knockabout sort of a bloke’’, says his own story underscores the importance of regular check-ups.
‘‘My cancer was only discovered when I went to the doctor for an unrelated issue,’’ he says.
‘‘As I’ve gotten older, I’ve now realised that a simple check up could save my life.’’
Brohman says he has tried to implement small lifestyle changes since his health scare in 2010 yet admitted there was still a way to go.
‘‘I am delighted to be the face of this,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s a big honour for me.
‘‘I am surprised by it because I’m not really a picture of health when you look at me. But I feel like I’m healthy enough. Well, I’m healthier now than what I was a couple of years ago and I’m happy about that.’’
He says he has tried to improve his eating and last year lost 20kilograms with the help of a Jenny Craig eating program. He has put some of the weight back on yet is still satisfied with his health gains.
‘‘I do exercise more now,’’ he says. ‘‘I just walk for about 45 minutes on most days.
‘‘I think you’ve got to make time for yourself. People say: ‘I’m too busy to be able to do that stuff’ but that’s crap. You can always find time to do something. You don’t have to run a marathon every day but just a walk at a reasonable pace that suits you.’’
Brohman says he feels some remorse over letting his fitness slide after his professional rugby league career.
‘‘As soon as I finished playing, I stopped training and I did pile on the weight very quickly,’’ he says.
‘‘And that’s something I probably regret. I wished I did carry on a bit more and keep exercising. Even if I was walking or just doing something. But I didn’t do it and after 20 years of neglect I now realise I should have done something but I am doing the best now to try and rectify the problem. I feel better. I do feel better when I go for a walk.’’
Through the ahm Check It program, Brohman wants Illawarra men to check their five Bs – blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar level, body mass index, and belt size.
‘‘I used to only go to the doctors if I was sick or needed a prescription,’’ he says. ‘‘I didn’t go as regularly as I should have. The message is this: ‘Make time, get off your butt, and go and see your GP and do it every six months. It could save your life’.’’
Ahm Check It, supported by Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local, will be staffed by health professionals, as well as medical nursing and health and behavioural science students from the University of Wollongong.
In a bid to help the campaign reach more people, organisers have introduced a business lunch, to be held this Friday, with former Australian cricketer Merv Hughes as guest speaker.
Healthier Illawarra Men (HIM) chairman Mark McDonald says Australian men are notoriously reluctant to be proactive about their own health, sometimes with fatal consequences.
‘‘We are determined to do something about men’s health and assist our community take more responsibility for their health,’’ he said.
‘‘For some time I’ve been struck by the amount of awareness in the community related to women’s health, compared to a seeming lack of awareness of the issue of men’s health – or should I say men’s ill-health.
‘‘Let’s face it, the colour pink is everywhere from cricket bat handles to pink caps on water bottles but a deathly silence on the promotion of men’s health. It’s improved over the years with Movember and an increased awareness around prostate cancer.’’
McDonald says the community message for men to have their five Bs checked by a doctor was slowly getting through.
‘‘For a notion that started out as a tiny little idea, this event has grown into a fantastic two-day opportunity for Illawarra men to shake themselves into action and, without any cost to them whatsoever, to come into the WEC and participate in a private individual health screening,’’ he says.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local chairman Dr Brett Thomson says one of the main concerns is that men don’t come into contact with medical systems and the primary health care system as often as women.
‘‘We find that in childhood everybody comes to the doctors equally and then when we pass into adulthood there is a group of people with a whole lot of risk factors and we don’t see them until they get old,’’ he says.
‘‘They kind of disappear off the radar. They don’t come to us unless they have a problem and we don’t get the opportunity to do any wellness promotion.
‘‘They will come to the doctor’s if they get sick, or cut themselves, or need a certificate but otherwise we don’t really see them for a number of years.
‘‘Whereas women come through over the years and we have a lot of conversations with them. We are doing Pap smears, breast checks, dealing with contraception issues, immunisation for kids, and talking about antenatal issues. We have a lot of access to them.’’
In addition to not seeing health professionals regularly enough, males were generally bigger risk taker than females, Thomson says.
‘‘Men are more likely to drink alcohol, more likely to smoke, and more likely to take physical risks, some of which can be attributed to testosterone and some of it is cultural,’’ he says.
‘‘What it means to us is that men lose out on the things which are important and they are at a much higher risk of having the problems of western life.’’
Men are more inclined to have issues relating to blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar, body mass and belt size.
Figures from NSW Health reveal that the Illawarra has higher than average smoking rates – 23.5per cent of men in the Illawarra smoke compared with the national figure which is 16.5per cent.
Further data from NSW Health for this region showed that 56per cent of men were believed to engage in high risk alcohol behaviour.
‘‘So we’ve got problems with smoking and alcohol in our region and we need to lift awareness about these things,’’ Thomson says. ‘‘A lot of people drink a lot on the weekend and there are real health messages around that. Alcohol consumption certainly shortens your life.’’
Men also need to be aware that professional medical help is available for mental health issues.
‘‘The big take home message is that males tough it out too much and aren’t good at getting help,’’ Thomson says.
‘‘We’ve got a lot of psychological help and support in this region. We’ve got a reasonable mental health service ... there is a lot of help in general practice and there’s a lot of allied health providers – psychologists, social workers and counsellors, that are accessible to people in the region.’’
A suicide prevention program tries to get people who really need help to be seen within 72 hours. ‘‘That’s running in the region now and we are really keen to target those people who are at risk and to raise awareness around the issue.’’ ■