A Mission for Awareness
- ‘Today’ show co-host Craig Melvin, 41, lost his older brother Lawrence to colon cancer in December at 43, and has made it his mission to raise awareness about the disease, especially in younger black men. “Colon cancer has a P.R. problem,” Melvin said to NBC Washington during a recent appearance. “It is not a cancer that people want to talk about — much less young Black guys who seem healthy and fit.”
- Melvin wants people, especially Black Americans, to find out their family history with colon cancer. “When we know better, we do better. But if we don’t know, then we can’t do,” he said.
- There are more African-Americans dying from colon cancer than any other cancer. “One of the things that is happening in our communities, particularly in the Black communities—we have people who are dying of cancer who shouldn’t be,” Dr. Karen Winkfield, radiation oncologist at Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance in Nashville, TN, tells SurvivorNet.
“Colon cancer has a P.R. problem,” Melvin said to NBC Washington during a recent appearance. “It is not a cancer that people want to talk about — much less young Black guys who seem healthy and fit.”Read More
Lawrence put up a four-year fight after doctors found and removed a “grapefruit-sized” tumor that had already spread.
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Melvin has been imploring Black Americans to find out their family history with colon cancer. “When we know better, we do better. But if we don’t know, then we can’t do,” he said.
When Melvin’s brother was having stomach issues, his doctor said it was probably his diet, then when he returned, it was likely stress or an ulcer. Finally, he had a CT scan and his cancer was found, but it was too late. He put up a brave fight but sadly lost his battle.
Melvin’s brother Ryan just joined him on the ‘Today’ show to get a colonoscopy on camera to help lessen the stigma of the test that is conducted by having a tube inserted in the anus to screen for polyps, which are abnormal growths in the colon.
Actor Chadwick Boseman is another younger Black man who lost his fight at 43 with the same disease in August. “There’s no reason that people should be dying en masse from colon cancer, knowing what we know about the disease and how to prevent it,” Melvin said, which is why he continually stresses that people get checked.
An Important Message For the Black Community
Experts say that anyone over 45 should be getting screened for cancer, and there has been more focus on encouraging Black Americans specifically to get in and get checked due to alarming numbers.
Colorectal cancer (which is bowel cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer) unfortunately hits the Black community harder, with Black Americans 20% more likely to get the disease and 40% more likely to die from it than most other groups.
“One of the things that is happening in our communities, particularly in the Black communities—we have people who are dying of cancer who shouldn’t be,” Dr. Karen Winkfield, radiation oncologist at Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance in Nashville, Tenn., tells SurvivorNet.
“It’s really important to make sure that we are taking care of our own health and our own bodies,” she says, pointing out that many people may not even have a primary care doctor. “That’s the one thing we have control over. It’s really important to prioritize our screening.
Black communities voice that they face discrimination in medicine. “… If you don’t like what they’re saying, and you don’t like how they’re saying it to you, you can get another doctor,” Dr. Winkfield urges. “That’s the beautiful thing about being here in the United States, is that you have options. And I think it’s really important, if you are feeling as if the doctor is not trustworthy, or you don’t feel like they have your best interests at heart, please get a second opinion.”
Craig Melvin Talks to SurvivorNet
It is important to be your own advocate. Even though most people have a higher risk of getting cancer when they’re older, more young people are getting diagnosed. If something doesn’t seem right and your doctor is not taking you serious, keep insisting on getting more tests.
“My older brother, Lawrence, had been having some issues with his stomach several years ago. And because he was so young– at the time, he was 39– the doctor, for the most part, dismissed it,” Melvin said to SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
“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. And lo and behold, after the CT scan, it was revealed that he had a tumor there in his colon. At the time, it was roughly the size of a grapefruit, and it had metastasized.”
Melvin added that his brother didn’t drink, didn’t smoke and had been a college athlete. “He was a perfect picture of health. So when we got the second opinion, we were stunned, to say the least.”
The family did some digging and found they had a family history of colorectal cancer. “It didn’t come up until we started asking questions,” he said. “And one of the things that we found over the past few years is that’s the case in a lot of families. People don’t like talking about their colons or their rectums or blood in their stool. These aren’t conversations that families have.”
Melvin is urging people to have these conversations. These conversations will save lives.