R&B singer Charlie Wilson has faced many hardships in his life, and being diagnosed with prostate cancer was one of the most devasting. Still, he overcame the disease and is now cancer-free, which is why he made it his mission to spread awareness about the disease among black men.
Charlie Wilson’s career spans almost five decades already. He started in the entertainment industry as part of the Gap Band, and later went on to embark on a successful solo career that has earned him thirteen Grammy awards nominations, a Soul Train Icon Award, and a BET Lifetime Achievement Award.
But Wilson’s life hasn’t been a smooth ride. He faced drug and alcohol addiction in the early ‘90s, which led to him being homeless for a few years. Then, he enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program, where he met his wife Mahin Tat, a social worker.
It was Tat who pushed Charlie to see a doctor for a physical exam in 2008.
“I have never liked going to the doctor or getting any type of exam. In addition to the physical, Mahin suggested I have a prostate exam,” Wilson recalled on an essay written for CNN’s “Human Factor” in 2012.
Although everything was fine at the moment, Wilson’s doctor encouraged him to go back the next month for another check-up, explaining that black men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than any other race.
A month later, on his second check-up, Charlie was referred to a specialist to get a biopsy.
“I remember hearing I had prostate cancer like it was yesterday. I was convinced my life was over,” Wilson recalled.
“Our visit with the specialist started with, ‘I have some good news and some bad news.’ My wife asked for the bad news, and the doctor said ‘Mr. Wilson, you have prostate cancer.’ My initial reaction was to get up and leave the room. My wife calmly asked me to sit down and have the doctor give us the good news. The good news was that it had been detected early and could be effectively treated.”
Wilson and his wife immediately started to research their possibilities and held meetings with his health care team to find the best treatment.
But the diagnose was not the last blow for the star.
During his battle, he called his father to give him the news and discovered that the man was also fighting the same disease.
“Unfortunately, he did not tell us that he had prostate cancer. It wasn’t until I called to let him know about my diagnosis that he told me,” Charlie recalled.
His father died from complications with cancer in 2011.
After going through radioactive seed implantation, a form of radiation therapy, Wilson is now cancer-free and healthy.
However, on his journey, Wilson realized that African-American men are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than other races or ethnicities. “It was at that time that I decided it was time for me to start informing as well as performing,” he said.
Charlie partnered with Janssen Biotech, Inc. on the Making Awareness a Priority (M.A.P.) initiative, and he’s also a national spokesperson for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
“I hope that African-American men and their families take a moment to learn more about prostate cancer and help spread the word. Awareness is the key. There are great resources and support for those who need it,” he added.
He encourages the women in black families to take the reigns of the situation and make their husbands, fathers, and brothers go to the doctor and have a prostate exam because he knows men don’t want to go through it.
“It’d be senseless not to get tested and then die of shame. One in three Black men have prostate cancer,” he said. “We have to man up and get tested.”
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