Cancer in communities of color:
The danger within, Part 2
by DAMASO REYES
Special to the AmNews
Originally posted 3/18/2004
“I was a typical Black individual, healthy, had no health problems,
didn’t have a reason to go to the doctor, so my attitude was why should
I go to the doctor? I’m healthy” said the Most Worshipful Grand Master
Calvin Martin III.
was in the prime of life, having recently retired from the Postal
service, where he worked as a safety inspector. Like so many other
healthy Black men, he was enjoying his life and had no reason to
suspect that he might have cancer.
In other words he was the perfect candidate for prostate cancer.
2000, 806 men died of prostate cancer in New York City and 296 of those
where Black men, most of whom where healthy, productive men in their
forties, fifties and sixties. As with nearly every other cancer, early
detection is the key to survival, which is why every man over age 40
should be screened yearly for prostate cancer, among other things.
Martin, his personal experience with cancer began as it does for so
many people like him. He learned that a fellow mason was diagnosed with
cancer after his wife forced him to get a screening.
“He had no idea
that he had cancer,” Martin said. “So I made a decision to get checked
at least once a year.” This decision would later save his life.
THE MASTER MASON
year the Prince Hall Masons of New York State elected Martin to be
their Most Worshipful Grand Master, the highest rank one can achieve in
the fraternal organization that is older than the Constitution of the
Realizing that prostate cancer was continuing to cull
their ranks, the Prince Hall Masons decided to start a screening
program for their members and the community, raising awareness about
this silent killer that lurks within all men, especially those over the
age of forty-five.
“I went from a person not being checked at all to
a person being checked twice a year,” Martin said. And it was at one of
those regular screenings that his cancer was found. He was 53 years old
at the time.
“I was devastated, couldn’t believe
it” he said, taking his mind back to that fateful day when he was told
that he might have cancer. He recalled getting a message from his
doctor to return for a visit. He did not want to go back to the office
because he feared the worst.
“I just didn’t respond to the doctor,” he said. His test results came back marked positive for cancer.
highly curable, prostate cancer still claims far more lives than it
should. When caught early, it is very beatable. When prostate cancer is
detected later, the odds for survival are not nearly as good. Martin’s
case is a perfect example of why a regular screening schedule is so
crucial: He had all his treatment options open to him. From radiation
to surgery, there are many tools available to fight prostate cancer,
but those choices narrow considerably the further along the cancer has
Despite having all of this information, Martin was still reluctant to go back to his doctor.
had just had a friend who had prostate cancer who died of [it],” he
said. But eventually Calvin did return to the doctor and after surgery
he was completely cured.
A LONELY CROSS TO BEAR
treatment, Martin kept what he went through to himself, as so many
cancer survivors do. At first he only shared the fact that he had
cancer with his wife and his mother. For many cancer patients the
recovery process is emotionally more difficult than the actual
treatment, and far too many cancer survivors unnecessarily suffer alone.
after his surgery, Martin felt the need to give back and began
volunteering with the American Cancer Society. Through his affiliation
with the American Cancer Society, he began a support group for male
cancer survivors called Brother to Brother. “I had no one to talk to
during my ordeal,” he recalled. “The benefits you get from a support
group may be quite different than what you get from a doctor.”
Being able to talk to someone who has had the same experience can take a great deal of the fear out of facing prostate cancer.
Martin will not divulge the secret grip or any other form of
recognition to those uninitiated in the ways of the Prince Hall Masons,
he is very open about the secret to beating cancer.
“My message is
that you need to be checked once a year. Every Black person is at
risk,” Martin said. “There is life after cancer.”
And that more than
anything, here is the message that people need to hear and accept:
Cancer does not need to be a death sentence.
With early detection
and treatment, most of the deaths that occur within communities of
color can be prevented. And if more survivors stand up at their
churches, workplaces, and social events and say, “I am a cancer
survivor,” People will realize that many of the friends and family
members who they love and respect have fought and won this most
difficult of battles, and they too can face down the enemy within