Wi t n e s s i n g m y f a t h e r ’s heartbreaking battle with colorectal cancer was one of the most difficult times in my
life. On the other hand, it made me passionate about
increasing awareness of the benefits of colorectal
cancer screening, particularly in communities
disproportionately affected by the disease. It also
drove me to work toward the elimination of cancer
health disparities and led me to be vigilant about
my own cancer screening.
My father, the late Congressman Donald M.
Payne, was a member of Congress for 23 years. He
was very well educated, but neither he nor I realized
the importance of colorectal cancer screening. As a
result, he was not tested in time to prevent his cancer
or even to detect it at an early stage, when it could
have been more easily treated. He ultimately lost
his battle with colorectal cancer in March 2012. I
have often said that had he been screened earlier,
he would still be with us today.
After my father’s diagnosis with colorectal cancer,
I set out to educate myself about the disease. I learned
that experts recommend that men and women at
average risk for colorectal cancer begin screening
for the disease at age 50. I also learned that colorectal
cancer affects the African-American community
more deeply than it does other communities and
that some experts recommend African Americans
start screening at age 45.
Given my father’s experience and what I had
learned in my own research about colorectal cancer,
I decided to have my first colonoscopy in December
2012, the day I turned 54. It was a good decision
because the doctor found and removed 13 polyps,
or precancerous growths, during the procedure.
I was shocked to learn this, but I was glad to have
caught the polyps before they became cancerous.
When I went back the following year for a second
colonoscopy, the doctor found and removed another
three polyps. Since then, I have had a colonoscopy
every year on my birthday. I tell people it is my
birthday present to myself because I know routine
screenings are essential for maintaining my health.
As a result of my experiences, I am dedicated
to spreading the word about how colorectal
cancer screening saves lives. I speak to a lot of
communities—at community health centers, on
neighborhood corners, and at places of worship—
about the fact that colorectal cancer is highly
preventable, but you have to catch it early. I tell
people about the need for testing, and I try to dispel
the notion that the screening process is painful and
extremely unpleasant. It’s a moment of discomfort,
but it can save your life. By talking about colorectal
cancer, I hope to remove the stigma that is attached
to the disease and the screening tests.
During my work to raise awareness about colorectal
cancer screening, I have come to realize that men
oftentimes think they are invincible. However, we
need to be more proactive about our health so that
we can enjoy our later years and so that we can give
ourselves and our families the security we deserve.
As co-chair of the Congressional Men’s Health
Caucus, I have a great opportunity to raise awareness
of the importance of preventive care among men
and to help reduce health disparities across diseases,
particularly those that touch so many lives, like
cancer. Improving outcomes for communities
disproportionately affected by cancer not only means
spreading awareness about preventive care, but it also
means educating people in these communities about
the importance of participating in clinical trials.
Although clinical trials are at the heart of the
process for bringing new medicines to patients,
African Americans and other minorities remain
significantly underrepresented in these trials.
Encouraging minority participation in clinical
research is important so that all communities,
regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status
benefit from promising new treatments.
My role as co-chair of the Congressional Men’s
Health Caucus has also afforded me the chance to
more effectively advocate for getting the National
Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention the funding they need to push
for ward research and screenings to save and improve
more lives. As a lawmaker, I have the responsibility
to make sure that people do not experience what my
family went through. We must continue to educate
people about the importance of funding for research
and prevention in our fight against cancer.
44 AACR CANCER PROGRESS REPORT 2016
THE HONORABLE DONALD M. PAYNE, JR. // U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FOR NEW JERSE
CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT // CO-CHAIR OF THE CONGRESSIONAL MEN’S HEALTH C //
BY THE U. S.
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