By Terrance Afer-Anderson
Cultural Arts Columnist
New Journal and Guide
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own!” 1 Corinthians 6:19. You can likely tell from the headline here, as well as the scriptural reference, that I am about to get very real. If you are an African-American man, related to, or love an African-American man, this article addresses a topic that warrants your most heartfelt attention.
September 2016 marked the twelfth convening of a national summit that aggressively targets a health disparity that assails Black men with alarming, yet needless ferocity. It is of such importance that, traditionally, the first day of the event is staged at the U.S. Capitol, followed by the second day being presented as part of the activities of the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference.
If you are still not convinced, consider the following. Black men in the U.S. have more than a 60% chance of being diagnosed with the associated disease than white men and are more than twice as likely to die from it. If you have already been touched by the illness, you’re certain to know to what I am referring. If not, when not diagnosed, or worse, when left untreated, this insidious malady is better known as prostate cancer.
A couple of weeks ago, the Prostate Health Education Network, PHEN, staged its “12th Annual African-American Prostate Cancer Disparity Summit.” PHEN founder and president Thomas A. Farrington notes that, “Knowledge is the best defense against prostate cancer.” When he was himself diagnosed in 2000, Farrington, acknowledged that, at the time, he was, “completely uninformed about every aspect of the disease, especially its extremely high risk level.” Once he did his homework and became aware of the startling prostate cancer disparity assailing African-American men, Farrington became a staunch and impassioned advocate for increasing awareness of the incidence of occurrence and disturbing death rates of the disease in Black men.
In 2001, he wrote and released the book “Battling the Killer Within.” In 2003, he founded the Prostate Health Education Network and in 2005, his determination and resolve emerging as compelling testimony, he wrote and released his second book, “Battling The Killer Within and Winning.” Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002, Charlie W. Hill, president and a co-founder of the Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum, is on a mission whose fervor is equal to that of Farrington’s. No wonder. There are 35 health districts in the State of Virginia. According to the Cancer Action Coalition of Virginia, in addition to the Crater district, Portsmouth and Western Tidewater have the highest rates of prostate cancer death statewide.
But no one need die from prostate cancer. No one! It is a slowly developing cancer. But African-American men are not getting screened when they should and are too often diagnosed when the disease has already begun to ravage the body. Of course, this is for a variety of reasons. This brief article will scarcely provide an adequate forum to address such. That’s why the work of men like Farrington and Hill is so critically important. Please pardon the redundancy, but let me get real.
In 2010, about the same time I learned that one of my plays was about to be produced in Las Vegas, quite a celebratory bit of news for sure, I also found myself diagnosed with prostate cancer. Charlie Hill quickly took me under his wing during those days and saw that I was schooled. He became my sage and my counselor. He then introduced me to Thomas Farrington and I eagerly volunteered for the army of survivor/warriors that these two generals were amassing, in Hampton Roads and nationally. I have thrice received awards from PHEN, moderated a panel for the organization earlier this month at the U.S. Capitol, served as a master of ceremonies for a 10th Annual Summit event, and served as a presenter during the 7th Summit.
So why is everyone working so hard? Medical researchers have yet to identify and clearly define the indicators of why Black men are disproportionately impacted by prostate cancer. There is much more research that needs to be done. But the plain and simple truth is that, when it comes to our health, African-American men don’t always do what we ourselves need to do.
There are a pair of acronyms that tend to deter, indeed intimidate us, one especially so. First, is the PSA, the “prostate specific antigen” blood test, which scrutinizes the level of the antigen in your blood that is a potential marker for prostate cancer. It is, however, best paired with the DRE, the dreaded “digital rectum exam,” the glove finger inserted into the rectum to discern any abnormalities of the prostate gland.
Again, I’m going to get real. If you are reluctant to have the DRE done because you see it as a threat to your manhood, you should be ashamed of yourself and you need to “Man-Up!”
But you should also really consider participating in clinical trials, another way to join the “army.” Hill says, “Increasing the number of African-Americans participating in clinical trials and research is critical for informing clinical guidelines and protocols that reflect the biology, physiology and DNA of men of African descent.” Farrington adds, “Increasing African-American participation in prostate cancer clinical trials is critical to insuring that the new generation of prostate cancer therapies are effective for Black men.”
The panel I moderated at this year’s Summit was entitled “Increasing African-American Participation in Prostate Cancer Clinical Trials.” It featured a gathering of pretty esteemed panelists. You can find out more on the PHEN website at www.prostatehealthed.org. The Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum’s web address is www.hrprostatehealth.com. Regardless of your chosen religion, faith, or lack thereof, you can likely appreciate that you are the custodian of quite an extraordinary spirit; that your body serves as a temple that houses an extraordinary miracle. Are you man enough to treat it as a divinely prescribed host, ordained in your possession?