A Strong Role Model
- Music executive Mathew Knowles – dad to Beyoncé and Solange Knowles – is an entertainment powerhouse, and he is also a male breast cancer survivor who is urging the Black community to be proactive about their health.
- Knowles, 69, spoke with SurvivorNet this week to discuss racial disparities in cancer care. His conversation is part of SurvivorNet’s Close the Gap virtual conference in partnership with Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health, which will be held on Thursday, June 17 at 1 p.m. ET. Emmy-award winning journalist Shaun Robinson will host the event, with a special musical performance by Macy Gray.
- A leading cancer doctor tells SurvivorNet why it’s important to be pushy with your doctors and stand up for yourself if you feel you aren’t being heard.
Knowles, 69, spoke with SurvivorNet this week to discuss racial disparities in cancer care. His conversation is part of SurvivorNet’s Close the Gap virtual conference in partnership with Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health, which will be held on Thursday, June 17 at 1 p.m. ET. Journalist Shaun Robinson will host the event, which will feature music by Macy Gray.Read More
Knowles, CEO of Music World Entertainment, author, professor and public speaker courageously shares his cancer battle to encourage people to be proactive about their health, and to let men know that they can get breast cancer too.
But most importantly, as a person of color, he is trying to rally the African American community to take control of their health like he did.
“I felt I was worth it,” he tells SurvivorNet. “I had that self-care.”
“This distrust goes back all the way to slavery, quite frankly,” Knowles continues. “If there is a new day, I think we have to understand that people of color are in high positions in the medical profession and working vigorously to make change. We can’t change what happened years ago, but we can effect change of what happens today. It’s about early detection.”
Knowles delves further into structural racism, explaining that it is a “conglomerate” of factors.
“It’s poverty, it’s education, it’s housing, but it’s also health and wellness,” he says. “It’s one big, gigantic challenge that we have, and it’s not just peeling off one part of it.”
Knowles is urging people of color to move forward for the sake of cancer prevention and general healthcare.
“When we’re saying, ‘Well, I’m not going to go to the doctor because of what they did 10 years or 20 years ago,’ you’re only hurting yourself,” he says. “You’re the one that will have the repercussions of not getting early detection.”
Know Your Family History; Genetic Testing is Affordable
The ‘male chest cancer survivor,’ as he prefers to be called, carries the BRCA2 gene mutation, which means that his children have a 50% chance of also carrying the gene which predisposes you to certain types of cancers. (In a prior interview with SurvivorNet, Knowles noted that Beyoncé and Solange have tested negative for the gene mutation.)
“I think when we get to genetics, that’s an overall lack of understanding. Because it’s so new in the medical profession,” he explains. “The next new thing is understanding genetically and going back to our family dynamics and family history and understanding those things and some of these genetic mutations are passed on to our kids and to our grandkids and to our great-grandkids. So it’s important to understand that. It’s important to know your family history, but genetic testing is accurate, it’s here, and it’s affordable.”
Lifestyle Changes and Self-Worth
Knowles committed to changing his habits after his 2019 cancer journey.
“It’s about understanding. When I understood that I was a cancer survivor, I had to make a lot of different difficult decisions,” he says. “I had to change my lifestyle. I stopped drinking alcohol. I started exercising daily. I understand the correlation between heart, cancer, and obesity. I was overweight.”
The 6’4″ podcast host was 264 lbs. and is now 233 lbs. “I gained a few pounds from the fact that, with my knee replacement, I wasn’t mobile, but I understood that and I made key changes in my life. Because I felt I was worth it. I had that self care.”
The American Cancer Society estimates in 2021, around 2,650 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men and around 530 men will die from breast cancer. That’s significantly less than female breast cancer (281,550 estimated new cases of invasive breast cancer for women and an estimated 43,600 deaths), but something men also need to take seriously.
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It’s Okay to Admit Fear
Knowles is not afraid to talk about the mental anguish of his health battle and also facing his mortality during COVID. But he took the necessary steps to work through it, and opens up about his fear.
“You know, I have a therapist. I have a Black man that’s my therapist. I don’t talk to him routinely now, but during COVID I did because I had this fear of dying because I hadn’t really accepted the fact that I could possibly die,” Knowles says. “So that fear I had and I was just over-hyper about COVID. Again, it is about overall health and wellness.”
Not only do we owe it to our families and loved ones, but we owe it to ourselves to take special care of our emotional and physical health.
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How to Communicate with Doctors
When Knowles’ wife, Gena Avery, starting noticing specks of blood on his white T-shirts and on their sheets, she alerted her husband, who knew to be an advocate for his health after working for years selling medical imaging equipment.
“I didn’t ask him, I told him I wanted a mammogram,” he says, referring to his doctor. “Patient rights, I mean, it’s education.”
He stresses that it’s a different day in the medical system.
“You have the right to pick up the phone, call your physician, and say, ‘I want a PSA. I want a prostate exam. I want a mammogram. I want an MRI,’ You have the right to do that as a patient and a lot of this is education and the things that you are doing which I can’t applaud enough to educate people that they do have these rights.”
Luckily, Knowles caught his cancer at stage 1A after requesting a mammogram and ultrasound. “Then the radiologist wanted to do more study and we did a biopsy and, sure enough, I was diagnosed with male chest cancer. I had surgery the next week. Gratefully diagnosed at Stage IA, which gives me a higher survival rate.”
When working with your medical team, tell them exactly what you are feeling and raise anything that may feel off to you. Every symptom should have a plan in place to address it, and if you feel like you are not being heard, continue to push and seek a second opinion if your concerns are not being addressed.
The only way to know this is to continue to push for answers, telling your medical team exactly what you are experiencing and demanding that you receive the best treatment for your specific situation.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murrell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional– that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
Healthier Habits to Consider
In between proactive check-ups at the doctor, keeping a healthy lifestyle like Mr. Knowles does is also key in cancer prevention.
Dr. Ken Miller, director of outpatient oncology at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview what he thinks are the top lifestyle tips for a cancer survivor. “One is exercise, I want you to do be doing at least two hours a week of exercise, and walking counts. I personally recommend a low-fat diet. I recommend a colorful diet. And the fourth, is I recommend being close to an ideal body weight.”