By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
After the big layoff of employees at his Sysco Planning Center in Staunton, Virginia in 2017, Michael Anthony Scales and his wife Magda, both 50, moved to Portsmouth where he acquired a job at a local Naval ship repair company.
He is a Logistics Manager, and the new income was enough to help him support his wife and son who today is seeking a degree in accounting at Tidewater Community College (TCC) in Norfolk.
The Scales family found the Hampton Roads region different from their former home in the rural western region of the state.
Hampton Roads is urban, more racially diverse; there is significant Black history to appreciate, cultural outlets like museums, and varied cultural events related to African-American people.
Their son Christopher, who is Gay, found a very active LGBTQ community for himself and his husband, who is working on a medical degree at the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS).
Michael Anthony Scales discovered something else that is not unique to Hampton Roads – colorectal cancer. He learned the area has one of the highest levels of colorectal cancer, also called colon cancer, among Blacks in the nation.
He discovered that he had a near-fatal encounter with the deadly disease.
“I did not like something going up in my butt,” said Scales frankly. “I read about (colonoscopy) in material provided by my Primary Care Physician. But I did not think it would mean anything to me.”
Scales started experiencing constant constipation. When he could “take a dunk,” his stool was jet Black, he recalled.
“What really got my attention was the blood in my stool and the tissue when I wiped myself,” he said. “I ignored it, however. I thought it was due to me taking aspirin.”
This went on for weeks and he never mentioned these incidents to his wife.
He read articles about colorectal and other cancers in pamphlets and Internet postings on the web.
“One day I entered the bathroom while he was showering and noticed some stool left in the toilet he had let out,” his wife said. “There was some blood in the bowl. I had to ask him about it.”
Mrs. Scales said for two hours she and her spouse had a very intense discussion and debate on the issue.
“He was headstrong and dismissive,” she recalled. “But I told him about the dangerous signs of colorectal cancer. He resisted. I said okay. Then he complained of some stomach pain. He tried to explain it away as gas. I told him to put his pride aside and consider his health. He did not admit it, as most men don’t … Something told me he was scared.”
Mrs. Scales, who is an accountant, is an avid poker player. She raised the stakes against her stubborn husband.
Instead of appealing to his intellect to convince him of scientific revelations that he was vulnerable to the disease, she used guilt.
“I called the family together and I laid out the situation,” she recalled. “He was still dismissive. So, I reminded him of his Uncle Clarence. He was healthy as a bull. He died painfully of what they used to call “consumption” at age 55, my husband’s age now. Later we found out it was colorectal cancer. He left his wife and several young children behind and she is struggling. I asked my husband did he want the same?”
Mr. Scales was convinced, finally, and agreed to have a screening.
He underwent a colonoscopy and “they caught it just in time about two years ago,” Mr. Scales reports.
With basic treatment and a change in diet and follow-up tests, the symptoms ended.
Dr. Rod L. Flynn, born near Columbia, Maryland, migrated to Hampton Roads, too, after completing training at UVA to be a cancer surgeon.
He said aside from the cultural aspects of the region, he is fascinated by the racial diversity.
Also, he noted the prevalence of healthcare disparities impacting its large Black population especially as it relates to colorectal cancer.
Flynn said he performs the most advanced and complex surgical procedures to halt metastatic colon and other cancers which have spread to other parts of the body.
He noted especially Black people over the age of 45 should consider periodic screenings for cancer to include colon and prostate cancer.
Flynn said that colorectal cancer is one of the easiest to treat to deter death if detected early through screenings.
He noted that there are factors of distrust Black people historically have of the medical community. Also, there are disparities in access to viable healthcare. These and other factors are key to deterring many Blacks from seeking yearly screenings, even when they have health care insurance.
He said he is keenly aware of the emotional impact that a positive reading after a test can have on a patient, regardless of race.
The colonoscopy Mr. Scales underwent indicated he had a number of “polyps” or growths on the lining of his colon, which were on the verge of becoming cancerous.
Dr. Flynn said that irregular bowel movements, constipation, diarrhea not related to tainted food, and dark, thin stools with blood are key signs of early or advancing stages of cancer.
He suggested people adhere to the doctor’s instructions and undergo treatments if they are diagnosed.
Flynn’s work surgically deals with the most advanced forms of cancer, and he works to provide the best technical work during the procedure to halt the disease’s impact and save a life.
He said he considers not only the emotional aspects of the impact of cancer on an individual who has been diagnosed with it but also the factors in the spiritual and psychological aspects of a person’s life in treatment.
Dr. Flynn, 53-years-old, is keenly aware of the myriad of disparities facing Black people socially and economically that may contribute to them being disproportionately susceptible to various cancers.
It is disheartening when “it is too late” for the best scientific medical technicality to work and the next step is to make the person’s remaining time as painless and comfortable as possible, he said.
Flynn said that access to viable healthcare to have the screenings, a healthy diet with less red meat, fatty foods and sugars, and exercise are personal regimens people can use to guard against most forms of cancer.
He said even people who still eat red meat, fast foods or drink alcohol can provide some measure of prevention if these are consumed in moderation.
He said that although people over 45 are more prone to contract cancers, similar factors are contributing to younger people contracting deadly cancers of varying kinds.
“I will tell anyone to go and get screened these days,” said Mr. Scales. “Maybe I was afraid they would find something. But I am here … working … enjoying my friends and family. When I woke up (after the colonoscopy) to my wife’s beautiful smile I was assured and appreciated that she took care of me. And she is still a better poker player than me!”