Ibram X. Kendi's Colon Cancer Battle
- Ibram X. Kendi, author of New York Times bestsellers like Stamped and How to Be Anti-Racist, was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2018 at age 35.
- He underwent surgery and chemo to treat his disease.
- Kendi credits Chadwick Boseman’s passing from colon cancer with empowering him to be more vulnerable about his own cancer; Black Americans like Boseman and Kendi are 40% more likely to die from this disease.
Ibram’s Colon Cancer JourneyBlack Americans are at a higher risk of dying from this disease, and Kendi notes this for his readers. “African Americans are now 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than other racial groups. There are many possible causes for that disparity, chief among them that African Americans tend to have lower incomes, live in more polluted neighborhoods, and have less access to preventative care, early detection, and high-quality treatment than White Americans,” he says. “My only risk factor for colon cancer was being African American.” Related: Close the Gap: Racial Disparities in Cancer Care Are Devastating Let's Change Things
Kendi writes that warning signs of the disease presented in fall 2017, and that he ignored them at first. They included: weight loss, fatigue and “constant trips to the bathroom.” The following January, at the urging of his partner, who is a physician, Kendi went in for a colonoscopy and body scans. At age 35, he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
Kendi treated his cancer with chemotherapy and surgery. He writes, “As I proceeded through the cycles of chemo, the side effects compounded: the fatigue, the nausea, the toxicity on my tongue, the darkening and drying and blistering of the palms of my hands and soles of my feet.”
Today, Kendi is now cancer-free.
Screening for Colon Cancer
A colonoscopy is the primary screening method for colon cancer. During the procedure, the doctor is looking for polyps small growths on the colon that can turn into cancer. Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, explains the process in an earlier interview. He says, “When we’re looking at a colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening, what we do is we’re looking for polyps, which are these small growths. When we see a polyp, we actually physically take the polyp out through the colonoscope.”
“What does that mean? That means we basically put a wire through with a little bit of a little flange at the end and we pull the polyp out,” says Dr. Murrell. “Now, note there is no pain with that. Inside the colon, there are no pain fibers. What happens is then when we take the polyp out, we send that to a lab. In about five to 10 business days, we get the results back.”
“And underneath the microscope, they can decide whether or not it is early cancer or whether it is just a precancerous polyp. 95% of polyps are precancerous polyps. And what does that mean? That means that it’s not a cancer yet. But it would have been a cancer ultimately if you just let it grow and grow and grow. Well, guess what? Now that it’s out of your body, there is no more risk for that polyp to become a cancer,” says Dr. Murrell.