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Cancer in communities of color:
The danger within, Part 2

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.
Martin 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.
In 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.
For 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.
Last 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 United States.
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.
While 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 progressed.
Despite having all of this information, Martin was still reluctant to go back to his doctor.
“I 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.
After his 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.
But 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.
While 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 themselves.

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