Nene Leakes, the exuberantly outspoken cast member of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta”, has much to celebrate this week as she announces that her husband Gregg, who’s believed to be about 63, is officially cancer free. It’s a happy moment in Gregg’s long journey with colon cancer, which has put his marriage to Nene under great strain– an ordeal about which Nene has been bravely public to her Bravo fans.
Nene, 51, posted on social media a smiling photo of her husband holding up a sign that says “No Cancer Found! Praise God…”READ MORE
Fans replied with a lot of love for the reality TV husband. “Amen! Praise Him from whom all blessings flow! Praise His Holy name!” wrote one fan. “Congratulations sir the good lord guide your path and your family,” commented another.
Gregg’s cancer journey began when he decided to get tested for colon cancer after initially rebuffing his wife’s pleas that he get tested. A frustrated Nene publicly confronted Gregg about failing to get screened, and he admitted his mistake.
Nene’s frustration with Gregg was justifiable. One of the most important factors in the success of colon cancer treatment is catching the disease early, and the best way to catch colon cancer early is to get routine colonoscopy screening beginning at age 45, and then every ten years. Still, a lot of men, and especially African American men, don’t want to get screened, according to Dr. Zuri Murrell, Colorectal Surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Murrell has not commented on Nene and Gregg’s story directly, but has spoken to SurvivorNet on screening for colorectal cancer in the past.
“A lot of times, especially with my African American patients, I have to initiate the conversation,” says Dr. Murrell. “I say, ‘Hey, I’m glad you’re here. Why are you here?’ ‘Well, you know, my wife wanted me to come.’ So, I just say, you know, ‘What’s going on? Have you had a colonoscopy?'”
And after conversation has begun, patients often remain obstinate. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Oh, no. I don’t want, you know, I don’t want a colonoscopy.’ And I just sit there and actually tell them, you know, ‘Why not?’ ‘Well, I don’t want anybody sticking things in my bottom.'”
So Dr. Murrell tries to comfort them by explaining the process. “I have to tell them, ‘Look, when you do a colonoscopy, number one, you’re under anesthesia. You feel nothing, okay. You go to sleep, you wake up, and I tell you that everything’s fine, or that we had a polyp, and it was removed. But there is no pain involved in this.'”
And, he admits, by telling them that their family needs them. “And then I talk to them, and this is really what I think gets them is that, ‘Well, if you don’t wanna do it for yourself, do you love your wife? Do you love your kids?’ I’ve not yet met one person who said no to any of those questions. Okay. I say, ‘If you don’t do it for you, you do it your family.'”
Eventually Gregg did get screened.
Once he learned about his cancer, Gregg also admitted to ignoring doctors’ orders to undergo chemotherapy and instead opted for alternative, holistic treatments which have no proven benefits. Under pressure from his loving wife, he did ultimately undergo chemotherapy treatment, which resulted in his remission.
Chemotherapy is an important part of treatment for stage three colon cancer, largely because stage three means that the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, according to Dr. Paul Oberstein, Medical Oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center. “In colon cancer, we now know that if tumor cells have reached the lymph nodes, they may be hiding in other parts of the body, too,” says Dr. Oberstein. “Although they may be too small to be seen, they can cause the cancer to come back. Because of that risk of recurrence, anyone with a tumor in their lymph nodes is recommended to undergo chemotherapy after surgery.”
Chemo lasts three to six months and is a combination of several medications that clinical trials have shown to do the best job of preventing the cancer from coming back. The most common combination is called FOLFOX, which is an acronym for three different medications that are given together: 5-fluorouracil/5-FU, leucovorin and oxaliplatin.
These medications are usually given through an IV which means you’ll be hooked to an IV pole in the doctor’s office every couple of weeks. There can be side effects to FOLFOX in some people such as low white blood cell count, diarrhea and numbness in the fingers and toes, but this combination is safe for most patients.
Gregg and Nene have been public about the fact that Gregg’s cancer took a major toll on what was already a very difficult relationship. In an earlier interview, Nene said “Gregg is not a walk in the park,” Nene told host Andy Cohen as a cowed Gregg sat by her side. “Not even if he didn’t have cancer, he is not a walk in the park,” NeNe said. “Our relationship is not great. It really put a strain on us.”
But now that Gregg is doing a little bit better, Nene seems to be enjoying their relationship a little more too. “We’re doing good. We hope to be doing great, but we’re doing good,” NeNe says.
They’ve even used some therapy to move past their differences. “We actually stepped into a therapy for the cancer — a therapist,” NeNe said, and noted that “it’s been really helpful” because they’ve been “through a lot.” Elaborating on that, NeNe explained, “Gregg was absent from our marriage for almost a year, so it was a lot.”