I wish Lloyd Austin a fast cancer recovery, but he set a bad example for Black men | Opinion

I wish Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin nothing but the best as he fights prostate cancer. But I am troubled by Austin’s lack of openness about his diagnosis.

As a Black man, Austin and others like him and me are at a higher risk of prostate cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

Three years ago, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I got screened. That same year, I underwent my first colonoscopy and I wanted to spread the word about the risk, so I wrote about it.

In his very public-facing and important role, Austin has a responsibility to inform not only his bosses of his illness, but the general population as well.

In this instance, he failed.

By simply imploring men to get screened for prostate cancer, Austin could help save lives.

In a statement released Tuesday acknowledging Austin’s diagnosis, officials at Walter Reed National Military Center reminded us all of the importance of health screenings and early detection. He was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer in December, his doctors said. He suffered complications from the surgery and was readmitted to Walter Reed Jan. 1. He has remained there since.

African American men at higher risk

Among American men, prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer, a point driven home this week by Dr. John Maddox, Walter Reed’s trauma medical director, and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, director of the Center for Prostate Disease Research of the Murtha Cancer Center.

It impacts 1 in every 8 men during life time, Maddox and Chesnut wrote in the joint statement. African American men — 1 in every 6 — are even more susceptible to the potentially fatal disease. Early detection is key in treatment.

“Despite the frequency of prostate cancer, discussions about screening, treatment, and support are often deeply personal and private ones,” the medical doctors wrote. “Early screening is important for detection and treatment of prostate cancer and people should talk to their doctors to see what screening is appropriate for them.”

For days, Austin and the Pentagon neglected to inform the White House and President Joe Biden of his illness, a major misstep for the agency responsible for helping shape the country’s national security strategy as wars in Ukraine and Gaza rage on.

Austin and the Biden administration will have to deal with the consequences of Austin’s actions.

Calls for Austin to step down have grown by the day, and understandably so. Austin’s decision to keep his illness a secret put the nation’s security at risk. His own deputy, Kathleen Hicks, on vacation in Puerto Rico, had no idea she had been put in charge due to Austin’s medical emergency.

That lack of transparency is unacceptable.

Sheriff Darryl Forte’s colon cancer diagnosis

In 2020, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer that spread to his skin. Aggressive radiation treatment quickly followed. Pops was down and out for months. Only by the grace of God is my old man still with us. He’s 72 now and in remission.

After I learned of my father’s diagnosis, I scheduled a PSA prostate cancer blood test, and was given the all clear. That same year, Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte announced that he’d been diagnosed with colon cancer. In a social media post on X, then known as Twitter, Forte, an African American man, encouraged others to schedule a screening.

After reading Fort’s tweet, I scheduled my first colonoscopy. I am so glad I did.

During the procedure, two large precancerous polyps — small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon — were discovered and removed. Undetected, those polyps could have developed into cancer, physicians told me.

I was placed in a high-risk category and advised to schedule a screening every three years, instead of waiting every five to 10 years recommended for other patients. I wrote about the cancer scare and the importance of early detection.

Later this month, I will return to the physician for my second colonoscopy. I am not looking forward to the prep work required for the procedure. However, I’d much rather have a severe case of diarrhea than die at an early age.

The suggested age for a colon screening for Black men is 45 and every 10 years after that, according to the American Cancer Society. I was 46 at the time of my first exam.

I wrote then: “Colon cancer is preventable and treatable but can be fatal if found in later stages.”

My perspective hasn’t changed.

Black men over 40 years old with a family history of colon cancer, I would encourage you to get screened. You should schedule a PSA, too.

I’m hoping for Secretary Austin’s full recovery. But it isn’t all that difficult to encourage others to do the same.