How Cancer Changed My Life And Inspired Me To Become A Health Advocate For Other Men
"I am lucky to be on this journey and implore other men to make proactive healthcare choices."
In April 2019, I celebrated my one-year anniversary of being cancer free, however, it was through my four-year battle with prostate cancer that I learned to live my best life — filled with joy, gratitude and even adventure.
It started in 2014, while working as a research assistant at the Heart Institute of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Part of my job was to travel across Los Angeles, encouraging men to take part in a study aimed at lowering blood pressure. As you may know, men will visit their barbershop at least twice a month, but many won’t go see their doctor for years if they can avoid it.
It was during this community health outreach that I realized that I should take my own advice and get a long-overdue physical. That appointment probably saved my life.
To my surprise, the doctor informed me that my prostate was enlarged. Further tests revealed that I had an aggressive form of prostate cancer. I could not have been more shocked and unprepared for that news. All I kept thinking was, “This has to be a mistake! I can’t have cancer, I’m too young!”
I soon learned that statistics show, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, that African American men in particular are 1.6 times more likely to get prostate cancer than others, and more than twice as likely to die from it.
Thanks to expert cancer treatment, which included surgery, radiation and hormone therapy, I got through my treatments without major incident. However, my real battle began after treatment finished; that’s when I started dealing with side effects of cancer treatment. I surely didn’t realize what an uphill battle lay ahead of me.
I suffered extreme fatigue, anxiety, nausea, weight fluctuations — which meant 60 pounds of weight gain at one point — hair loss and even hot flashes. Who knew guys could get hot flashes? Well, I had them every five minutes, at least it felt that way. As you can imagine, I was devastated, scared and questioning whether I would ever feel normal again. To be honest, I was completely lost.
Thankfully, anchored by my faith, I began to find resources through an oncology social worker, therapist and local cancer foundation, Tower Cancer Research. Still searching for more resources, I went online and discovered the amazing organization, A Fresh Chapter. This cancer support nonprofit opened my imagination to the possibilities for my future endeavors. Terri Wingham, A Fresh Chapter founder and CEO, leads international volunteer trips for people impacted by cancer from around the world. Terri’s amazing program allows people to step outside the confines of their cancer story, to find a path of hope and a fresh chapter for their lives.
My first experience with A Fresh Chapter took me to India, where I met incredible people whose lives like mine had been uprooted by cancer. These people became my tribe, and together we found renewed purpose and empowerment through volunteering with locals in New Delhi, India.
Since my trip to India in 2016, I recognized a gap in the men’s health space. Men often don’t talk about their health — it’s not considered “macho.” My own journey confronting my health, both physically and emotionally, led me to create a men’s health awareness and cancer support nonprofit Men Actively Creating Healthy Outcomes, MACHO. Through MACHO, I have been able to raise awareness of the importance of routine cancer screenings and preventive healthcare to thousands of men across the nation. MACHO has also inspired me to pursue and receive a certificate as a Cancer Exercise Specialist, starting a group fitness and exercise program for cancer survivors called Survive-Fit. I’ve even received an encouraging letter from President Barack Obama and was recognized for my health advocacy achievement by California Senator, Holly Mitchell.
This year, I’m returning to work with Terri and A Fresh Chapter, for a visit to Kenya, Africa. There, we will work with the local cancer community to learn from one another and help develop survivorship resources for cancer patients.
My attitude of gratitude is beyond measure for all the incredible blessings I’ve received, and I look forward to continuing to live my best life after cancer through service, health advocacy and gratitude. I am lucky to be on this journey and implore other men to make proactive healthcare choices.