NEW YORK NEWS
Cancer in communities of color: The danger within, Part 4
by DAMASO REYES
Special to the AmNews
Originally posted 4/1/2004
“Everything was going very well and then suddenly I was hit with
cancer,” said bladder cancer survivor Carl McDonald of his experience.
“I felt that my time was not yet finished; I didn’t want to die,” the
Jamaican-born photographer said in an interview at his home in Yonkers,
award-winning newspaper and magazine photographer, with images
published in periodicals as diverse as Life, The New York Times, The
Daily News and Jet, it was very likely his passion that led to his
cancer. “People who work in my field with a lot of chemicals … are
prone to bladder cancer,” he said. For Carl the first warning sign was
frequent urination, not uncommon in middle-aged men, but when he began
to notice blood in his urine he knew it was time to get himself to the
“The immediate reaction was death,” Carl said of learning
that he had bladder cancer. “But in my mind I wasn’t ready to pack it
in,” he added. For so many people who fear they may have cancer it is
the belief that cancer is a death sentence that keeps them from the
doctor. But the cancers that most people die from can either be
prevented by changing behaviors like smoking or have very high cure
rates if caught early. One way to catch cancer before it spreads is to
have regular screenings and doctor visits. Another is to be aware of
the warning signs, such as a lump in a breast or, in Carl’s case, blood
in the urine.
It was less than a year from Carl’s diagnosis to his
surgery, which removed his cancerous bladder. Carl was fortunate that a
new procedure had just been introduced that allowed his surgeons to
create a new bladder, which allowed him to retain a higher quality of
life. But as is the case for so many cancer survivors, the surgery and
chemotherapy were not the hardest part of the process.
“It was very
depressing. I was also going through a divorce at the time,” Carl said
of the emotional challenges he faced during his treatment and recovery.
“I don’t even like to recall that time. I cried every day – Niagara
Falls couldn’t compete.” It was during this difficult time of recovery
that Carl became involved in the Patient-to-Patient program at Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a program designed to allow survivors to
reach out in person and over the phone to the newly diagnosed and those
still battling cancer and share their experiences and knowledge.
took me a while to be able to speak about the experience without
breaking down,” he said. “But eventually I was strong enough and I was
making calls to Ohio and Florida.” For Carl, reaching out to other
patients was one of the tools that helped him in the months and years
after his surgery.
“The point is that there is hope, there is
definitely hope,” Carl said, looking back at his own fears, now in the
distant past. “I think it is important to have your own support; if you
feel you are doing it alone the task is much more tremendous,” he
added. While many doctors and hospitals focus on curing a patient’s
body, more and more have come to realize that emotional support is just
as important to a patient for their recovery.
As a survivor and advocate, Carl not only reaches out to those with cancer but to those at risk.
detection is key,” he said. “Black men tend not to see doctors because
we don’t trust them,” Carl explained. But as a survivor he pointed to
his own experience as an example of why it is so important to have and
regularly visit a doctor. As Carl so clearly demonstrates every day of
his life, you can have a full and healthy life after cancer, even when
treatment requires surgery.