GQ's May Issue Spotlights The Toll of Colon Cancer on Black Men

GQ's May Issue Spotlights The Toll of Colon Cancer on Black Men

Just days before the 2021 Academy Awards, GQ profoundly published an article about how Black Men have suffered from Colon cancer. In telling their stories, the writers, Ibram X Kendi and Mik Awake, along with photographer Dana Scruggs give voice to the often voiceless.

Here are a few excerpts from this feature story.

Photography by Dana Shruggs for GQ

When Chadwick Boseman died from colon cancer, Ibram X. Kendi, one of the country's most renowned historians of racism, felt moved to speak up about his own fight against a disease that disproportionately afflicts Black men. He decided to reveal the scars from his own surgery—to wear them as visible signs of triumph over adversity. Here, alongside six other patients and survivors, he bares his wounds—and reckons with the disease's lasting effects on his body and his spirit.

My body sent me warnings throughout the fall of 2017. But I ignored them—the weight loss, the fatigue, the constant trips to the bathroom only for nothing to happen. As the symptoms got worse, so did my denial. When I started passing blood clots into the toilet after Thanksgiving, I somehow convinced myself it wasn’t anything serious. I was traveling the country giving lectures on racism and antiracism, and for a while, my intense schedule allowed me to hide what was happening. But my partner, Sadiqa, is a physician, with a keen eye for failing health. When she noticed the extent of my symptoms during a post-Christmas vacation, she scheduled a doctor’s appointment for as soon as we were home. And let’s just say it would have ended our marriage if I had not gone.

In January I went in for a colonoscopy and body scans. I found out the worst: I had colon cancer. Stage IV. According to the American Cancer Society, only 14 percent of people receiving that diagnosis are likely to be alive five years later. I was 35 years old.

In two respects, my diagnosis fit larger patterns. Colon cancer is increasingly afflicting young people, with millennials twice as likely to develop the disease as those born in 1950. And 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.

Many people diagnosed with cancer ask themselves, “Why me?” I asked another question: “Why did I do this to myself?” I felt, in those days, a kind of angelic glow radiating from Sadiqa, who had likely saved my life. At the same time, I started to resent myself for ignoring the disease’s early warning signs, which likely allowed the cancer to spread out of my colon. I raged at myself for acting like I was immortal, for letting my veganism and regular exercise mask the fact that I had never really taken my health—or my life—very seriously.

To read the entire article and see the moving images, read GQ's Scar Stories.

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