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Why black men need to talk about colon cancer

The men in my family didn’t talk about cancer. My father and grandfather had colon cancer. Some of my uncles had cancer. In fact, my father was in his forties when he was diagnosed, so my brothers and I should have been examined in our thirties. Little did I know I should have done this until I was diagnosed at the age of 43. Doctors recommend all black men start screening for colon cancer at age 45, younger if you have a family history (usually ten years prior to the age your parent or sibling was diagnosed first).

At the time, I was an avid Harley rider and a member of the Klutch N ‘Khrome Motorcycle Club. I had a lawn care business in Douglasville, a small town near Atlanta for 1

2 years. In the summer of 2016, I noticed that after an hour or two of work outdoors, I felt unusually tired – like an old cell phone battery that could never charge 100 percent. I went to the doctor for an exam and was cleared, but I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t tell myself that it was just my weight that made me sluggish.

In September I told my wife I had to go back to the doctor. He checked my cards and sent me for more blood tests. The next morning a nurse called and told me not to go to work and go straight to the hospital because my hemoglobin was dangerously low. The doctor found a large mass in my colon – it was stage III colon cancer. I had a partial colectomy to remove the segment of my colon with the cancer.

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Why did the doctor miss this the first time? Maybe it was because I didn’t know what to look for. I have never heard the men in my family talk about their cancer. I was in college when my dad first got cancer, but I didn’t find out until years later.

Historically, black men just don’t talk about being sick. I had blood in my stool for a while – an important symptom to look out for in others – before going to the doctor. I don’t know how long I’ve seen it – I was in denial. Fear stopped me, but didn’t let that stop me from talking about my symptoms and treatment.

Before my first of 12 chemotherapy sessions, I looked my wife in the eyes and remembered how she sadly folded on the hospital room floor after my diagnosis and told her I would beat cancer and then ride a motorcycle. We made #beatcancerthenride out of this, and I’ve recorded my journey from diagnosis to treatment so far. The silence stopped there.

This hashtag has enabled me to connect with men across the country who want to know what symptoms to look for. I urge them to take changes in their bowel habits seriously, as early detection is key. Ultimately, my goal is to organize a trip to raise funds for Colon Cancer Awareness, but in the meantime this simple hashtag has done a lot. I am allowed to speak to others about their concerns, and it has shown other black men that black men can and can speak about colon cancer and their health in general. Most importantly, my own sons know their risk because I didn’t hide my cancer journey from me like the men in my family do.

In May 2017, after seven months of chemotherapy, I’d beaten cancer and it was time to ride the 2,100 miles from Atlanta to South Padre Island and back for Bike Week. In the fresh air, with blue skies and palm trees above me and my wife by my side, as she always was, I rode my motorcycle. I was fine. I was free and thanked God.

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