By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
More than two decades have passed since Charlie Hill received a prostate cancer diagnosis in June 2002, was wheeled into surgery six months later at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and returned home to become a founding member of the Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum.
Webster’s defines a survivor as one who goes above, over, and beyond. Hill not only qualified for the title long ago, he will urge others to do likewise at a Prostate Cancer Early Detection Event that will be held on Oct. 1, from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., at Ebenezer Baptist Church, located at 965 Baker Rd., Virginia Beach.
The New Journal and Guide recently caught up with Hill and asked him to share his success story during National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month which is observed throughout September. While it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths nationwide for all men and is more likely to prove fatal to African American men, prostate cancer is not an automatic death sentence. This is the message Hill has shared for two decades at church and civic group meetings and health fairs.
In a recent interview, Hill described his hectic itinerary which included a recent event at Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute on Sept. 17, as well as an event at Newport News’ Riverside Cancer Care Center on Sept. 10. He also helped with a prostate awareness event in June at Shiloh Baptist Church in Norfolk.
“Also in June on the same day we offered the same service at the Empowerment Center in Franklin,” Hill said. “In February, Grove Baptist Church in Portsmouth and New Beech Baptist Church in New Beech were hosts. So, you see we have been on a roll this year in spite of the pandemic.”
While it is impossible to calculate the total number of survivors Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum has spawned since it was launched as “a one man project,” the organization has grown “as others became interested,” said Hill, who has served as president and co-founder. “We formalized the group and my new wife, Golden Hill, a hospital administrator, and I recruited a local urologist and a recently arrived oncologist. We became the four co-founders.”
Hill said, “I am still proud of the fact we do not have any paid employees. We recruit men and women. Much of this information is on our website at http://www.hrprostatehealth.com.” Or phone 757-827-2438.
Aiming to learn more about prostate cancer after his diagnosis in 2002, Hill went above, over, and beyond. He conducted interviews and sorted through reports. “It was simply called Charlie Hill’s Project,” he explained. “I talked with more women than men. The women who knew I had lost my first wife to lung cancer (a non-smoker) a few weeks before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer were very helpful and involved in suggesting other women.”
Soon, men who had either received a prostate cancer diagnosis or did not know too much about it were discussing the once-taboo topic with their wives and families at public forums Hill sponsored.
“At that time, the men I reached out to including family did not want to talk about it.” Hill explained. “I later realized the men who had not experienced being diagnosed did not know very much about prostate cancer. Many other men and their wives did not want to talk about it because of the sexual function issues and manhood concerns.”
The organization has sparked many changes in the past two decades. For example, prostate cancer survivors are becoming increasingly visible at health fairs and other community events including the event at Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute on Sept. 17.
Hill said, “My team and I were there doing what we do: helping to direct foot traffic and helping with logistics. My Warriors and I were there listening, answering questions, comforting men and their families–all of the things that previously diagnosed men can do better than most. As you will remember all of my Warriors have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and have been successfully treated. We are more than Survivors.”
In September 2021, Hill’s group launched the Fortify–40FY Campaign. It is an annual campaign designed to be highlighted in September and practiced each month of the year. It simply encourages men to get a PSA Test and DRE exam in their birth month when they reach age 40 and each birthday month thereafter.
Also, the Fortify emphasis speaks to the ongoing need for men to strengthen themselves through diet and nutrition and fitness and exercise in their birthday month and each month thereafter.
Before he received a prostrate cancer diagnosis two decades ago, Hill was the executive vice president of human resources for Landmark Media Enterprises. He was also the primary caregiver for his wife, Annase, a non smoker who died of lung cancer in 2001.
“After we buried her, my physician noticed I lost weight,” Hill said in a Feb 21, 2013 interview in The Virginian-Pilot “He suggested a checkup.”
Hill was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002. The disease returned in 2006.
“God keeps me going,” said Hill, who experienced a heart attack in 2001, and was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2011.
“(God) does that through my (second) wife (Golden Hill), daughters, sister, other close and distant family members and my medical team,” he said. “Oh, yes, my direct communications with God is also in the mix and is very real. Also, the need keeps me going, There are still too many things that need attention. I wish I could do more.”
What more can his pioneering organization actually do? It has launched the Fortify–40FY Campaign and public forums that help prostate cancer survivors and their families open up. It has formed partnerships with Sentara, Riverside, the American Cancer Society, EVMS, Virginia Oncology Associates, the 100 Black Men of America, Virginia Peninsula Chapter, Urology of Virginia, Pfizer and others.
Records show prostate cancer actually declined from late 2000 to 2010 and held steady from 2014 to 2018. However, advanced-stage prostate cancer rose by 4 percent to 6 percent each year during this period. The 5-year survival rate for people with prostate cancer in the United States is 98 percent. The 10-year survival rate is also 98 percent.
Approximately 84 percent of prostate cancers are found when the disease is in only the prostate and nearby organs. This is referred to as the local or regional stage. The 5-year survival rate for most men with local or regional prostate cancer is nearly 100 percent.
See Prostate, page A-8
From page A-2
For people diagnosed with prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 31 percent.
According to Web M.D., “Black men are half as likely to die of prostate cancer today as they were a few decades ago. That’s good news…Prostate cancer makes up about 37 percent of all cancers in Black men. Around 1 in 6 will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in life…Early detection is key in prostate cancer. Nearly 100 percent of men from any race will live 5 years past their diagnosis when prostate cancer is found early.”
Hill said, “Our goal is to reduce suffering and save lives impacted by prostate cancer. Our target demographic is Black and other high risk men. For us other high risk men are those men whose father or a brother has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Also, we very strongly believe these men should have their first PSA test and digital rectal exams at age 40 to establish a baseline. Then repeated annually for as long as they and their provider thinks it is appropriate.”
Clearly, Hill is not only a survivor. He is also a very busy man. He arises each day at 5:30 a.m. He walks five miles on his treadmill or rides his stationary bike for one hour. He lifts bar bells to maintain arm strength and eats a sensible breakfast (medium size bowl of steel cut oatmeal, 20 medium size roasted almonds, a cup of herbal tea, half of a small apple, a quarter of a medium banana and glass of water). He visits his doctor each month.
But fatigue often tiptoes on cat’s paws toward him. “I am physically more tired these days than ever before due to the 50-plus hours I spend on prostate cancer matters and my medical issues,” he said.
Nevertheless, he is still a survivor. In fact, he is busy breeding survivors–(those who will go above, over and beyond), at his alma mater, Virginia State University.
“I am committed to do what I can in two areas of interest outside of my family. One you know–prostate cancer. The other is servant leadership for students at Virginia State College. I established a Leadership Institute there in 2015. The university later named it the Hill Leadership Institute. The Hill Fellows on campus make me so proud. The HLI goal is to increase the number of graduates who (will become) more effective and successful students, citizens, employers and employees.”
Photo: Charlie Hill Courtesy