Boseman's Posthumous Oscar NominationChadwick Boseman’s Academy Award nomination for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, after several other awards and nominations, is not only honoring the late star’s legacy, but it’s bringing even more awareness to a disease that disproportionately affects younger Black Americans; colon cancer. Blacks are affected by colon cancer at an alarmingly higher percentage than whites or other ethnicities, and Boseman’s fight is helping younger black men realize that they need to go get screened for the disease. After all, this is a man who had the “money and access to the best care possible” as Joy Woods, University of Texas doctoral student in communication and health equality pointed out following Boseman’s death in August. Today Co-host Craig Melvin, whose brother Lawrence died at the same age as Bozeman of colon cancer, tells SurvivorNet the importance for people to learn their family history. “One of the things that we found out after my brother was diagnosed is that there was, in fact, a family history of colorectal cancer,” he says. “It didn’t come up until they started asking questions.”
Boseman’s stunning achievement in the Denzel Washington-produced film Ma’ Rainey’s Black Bottom continues to shine the spotlight on his tremendous acting ability, but also brings into focus the importance of colon cancer screening.Read More
Black men die at higher rates from colon cancer than their white peers. Sure that gap has narrowed. But here we are talking about a man who was 43 yrs old, who had the money and access to the best care possible and is now gone. Literally too soon
— JMWB (@smileitsjoy) August 29, 2020
If you want to honor the life of Chadwick Bozeman lobby for change on how insurance companies pay for colorectal cancer screening. Today the standard is 50 years old. Chadwick and other black males must wait until they are symptomatic hence the frequency of advanced cancers.
— Billy Peterson (@WombatsView) August 31, 2020
“The death of actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer at the age of 43 is emblematic of the racial disparities in access to screening and treatment for this disease,” Ajay Prakash, MD, a hematology and oncology fellow at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, wrote in the New York Daily News. “Chadwick Boseman’s death should be a wake-up call for all of us,” Dr. Prakash writes. “Let us not lose more of his generation because of inaction.”
Although the Black Panther leading man did not reveal his diagnosis while he privately fought his battle, he did a lot for the cancer community before his death. The actor participated in Stand Up To Cancer’s collaboration with American Airlines in 2018 to help raise money for cancer research.
When Chadwick Boseman agreed to Stand Up To Cancer on our Avengers American Airlines plane in 2018, we had no idea the…
Bozeman became highly emotional in an interview when talking about two boys with cancer who passed before getting the chance to see Black Panther. Knowing now that he had already been diagnosed at this time is particularly heartbreaking to watch.
In an interview for Black Panther, Chadwick Bozeman broke down in tears when speaking about 2 boys he knew who were excited for the film but died from cancer. Little did we know he was also battling cancer then.#WakandaForever #ripchadwickboseman pic.twitter.com/mhMOmzrpTC
— J’onn Larod (@the_juandy_city) August 29, 2020
An Actor’s Legacy
Boseman’s widow, Taylor Simone Ledward, tearfully accepted Bozeman’s Golden Globe award last month, encouraging people to “keep going” and “take all the moments to celebrate those we love.” Her words were particularly moving for cancer fighters and survivors.
“He would thank God. He would thank his parents. He would thank his ancestors for their guidance and their sacrifices,” Ledward said as she accepted her late husband’s best actor in a motion picture drama win. “He would thank his incredible team … he would say something beautiful, something inspiring, something that would amplify that little voice inside of us that tells you you can, that tells you to keep going.”
“And I don’t have his words, but we have to take all the moments to celebrate those we love, so thank you HFPA for this opportunity to do exactly that,” she continued. She concluded the speech by speaking directly to her late love. “And hon … you keep ’em coming,” referring to winning more awards. And he certainly did with another win at the Critic’s Choice Awards. Boseman also received four SAG nominations. Winners will be announced April 4.
To make these wins even more impactful, Bozeman worked on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom while he was fighting cancer, and didn’t let the disease stop him from doing the film he was so proud to work on.
“Certain members of his team knew [about Boseman’s diagnosis]. His wife was there,” producer Denzel Washington told CBS Sunday Morning. “They weren’t even married yet. And I used to watch how she took care of him, and I actually said to him, I said, ‘Man, you know, you need to put a ring on that finger,’ cause she kept her eye on him and she watched him. And I’m like, ‘Man, she loves that guy.’ You know, but I didn’t know what we know now.”
Knowing Your Family History
Another public figure who is raising awareness for colon cancer (in younger Black men specifically) is Today co-host Craig Melvin who lost his brother Lawrence Meadows to the disease. Like Boseman, Meadows was only 43 when he passed, and he was diagnosed at age 39. Melvin stresses the importance of learning your family history with cancer. When his brother was diagnosed, his family started having those conversations and in turn, found that there was a history of colon cancer in his family.
“My older brother, Lawrence, had been having some issues with his stomach several years ago,” Melvin tells SurvivorNet, “and he went to his doctor in South Carolina. And because he was so young– at the time, he was 39– the doctor, for the most part, dismissed it. They went back a few weeks later, and the doctor ultimately said, you know, let’s just rule out all of the terrible things by giving you a CT scan.”
“At the time, it was roughly the size of a grapefruit, and it had metastasized,” Melvin says, pointing out that his brother didn’t drink or smoke, and was a college athlete. “He was a perfect picture of health. So when we got the second opinion, we were stunned, to say the least. One of the things that we found out after my brother was diagnosed is that there was, in fact, a family history of colorectal cancer.”
It didn’t come up until they started asking questions.
Getting Screened for Colon Cancer
It is important to get screened for colon cancer even if you have no family history. Experts recommend that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45, but since many people like Boseman and Melvin’s brother were diagnosed years earlier, it is best to be aware of symptoms and to go in and get checked if anything seems amiss.
Symptoms of colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make it look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Losing weight without trying
Dr. Heather Yeo, a colorectal surgeon at Weill-Cornell Medical Center, discusses the top two myths associated with colon cancer and getting checked, and sets the facts straight with SurvivorNet.
Myth #1: Colonoscopies are the only way to detect colon cancer.
The verdict: Not true. Though colonoscopies are the best way, there are a lot of other methods — like fecal occult blood tests (which look at a sample of your stool) and fecal immunochemical tests (FIT). “The [tests] have different roles and you should talk to a medical provider about what’s best for you, but there are a lot of options,” Dr. Yeo says.
Myth #2: Only people with a family history can get colon cancer.
The verdict: Not true. “In fact, the majority of people who get colon cancer have no family history,” Dr. Yeo says. “The reason I do the specialty is because if we screen patients early, cancers can be prevented. We can have really good survival outcomes and so I tell that to a lot of my patients. It’s important to have a positive outlook for that.”