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by Marian Uhlman
Knight-Ridder News
June 17, 1999

PHILADELPHIA -- Talking about impotence isn't easy for anyone -- not even former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, who is becoming the nation's most visible spokesman on the topic.

bob dole Dole steels himself against the snickers and Viagra jokes made at his expense. And he reveals a flash of anger toward the cynicism that trails his high-profile efforts to encourage men to seek help for erectile dysfunction, or ED, as the condition is formally called.

Dole, who was in Philadelphia to address the National Men's Health & Fitness Conference and Exposition, says he forges ahead because there are many men out there, like him, who must deal with this most intimate medical problem.

He didn't plan to make public his condition a year ago on the Larry King show. But King asked, and Dole answered. Since then, he has become emboldened by the response.

"We had hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and letters after that one appearance," Dole said. "They said, 'Thank you, and send more information.'E" For Dole, ED was a side effect from 1991 surgery for prostate cancer.

Back then, sitting in his doctor's office with his wife, Elizabeth, Dole said, he was as embarrassed as any man would be to talk about the possibility that surgery might leave him with this other condition. But he didn't dwell on it, focusing on ridding himself of cancer first.

His surgery led him to urge men over 50 to get regular exams -- a message he has been delivering for eight years.

"After surgery you have a side .E.E. that doesn't want to talk about anything," Dole said. "Some people said to me, 'You should keep your mouth shut' .E.E. but that does not make sense to me."

In his 75 years, Dole has become such an experienced patient -- from dealing with horrific World War II wounds to, most recently, colon surgery -- that he says he feels an obligation to share what he knows with other patients.

Dole gave voice to the conference's goal of getting men to do a better job of looking after themselves. He said women, on average, outlive men by 5.6 years. And men are much less likely to see a doctor than women, especially on a regular, preventive basis.

"It's not about Viagra or ED. Its about men's health issues," Dole said. "How many men are aware of the signs of early cardiac disease? How many men know their exact weight? .E.E. Their blood pressure? .E.E. Their blood sugars?

"These are important indicators of good health. We should all know our numbers."

Dole acknowledges that getting men to be proactive about their health will not be simple. He said many men avoid seeing a doctor because they are scared something might be wrong. Others eat improperly, drive without seat belts or smoke cigarettes.

At the prostate-cancer screening booth he sponsors each year at the Kansas State Fair, Dole witnesses how reluctant men can be about getting checked. He watches them circle the midway twice before drumming up the courage to have their blood drawn.

Last December, Dole became a consultant to Pfizer Inc., the maker of the anti-impotence drug Viagra. Dole had participated in the clinical tests of the drug. Although he is paid an undisclosed sum, Dole said he is not promoting Viagra. His Pfizer role is defined as an educational initiative to heighten awareness of men's health issues.

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