The passing of Chadwick Boseman from colorectal cancer at the age of 43 devastated so many people who looked to the “Black Panther” star and saw a hero. His death last year was particularly impactful for me, a young Black man whose mother had been diagnosed with the disease at age 34.
My mom was fortunate. She had a colonoscopy that spotted the cancer early and helped save her life.
Still, because of my family history, I am at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Black men are also at higher risk as well. So just days before my 30th birthday, I underwent my first colonoscopy.
I invited STAT to film it, from the first sips of my yellow Gatorade-infused bowel prep to the actual screening of my colon and the recovery room after. When I first told my mom, a very private person, that I wanted to document my colonoscopy, she was worried about what the outcome could be and whether I’d be prepared to share it publicly.
Ever protective, she told me something to the effect of, “Are you really sure you want to do that? And show the world your you-know-what?”
But in my reporting, I had learned about the importance of knowing one’s family history when it comes to colorectal cancer. Though it is one of the deadliest types of cancer, it is also one of the most preventable with early detection. My procedure was done by Bethany DeVito, the same gastroenterologist who found my mother’s cancer some 20 years ago.
After it was over, my mother said she felt relieved that my outcome was different than hers and that she was proud that I was willing to share my experience.
Boseman’s death gave me the impetus I needed to get my own colonoscopy, as well as show others that the lifesaving procedure is not something to be afraid of.
This story was documented while Nicholas St. Fleur was a Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellow at STAT. Read his accompanying piece on how young men are dying at higher rates in colorectal cancer hot spots here.