When Darnell Thoroughgood turned 50, his doctor wanted him to have a colonoscopy. That's the age when most men and women should have their first to detect and remove colon polyps that can turn to cancer.
As an African-American, he was already five years behind the American College of Gastroenterology's recommendation, but Darnell still said no.
"I wasn't about to have a medical device anywhere near my nether regions," Darnell says. "Call it a man thing. My pride got in the way of good judgment."
His wife, Jean, was a supervisor in outpatient surgery at Sentara Healthcare at the time. She dogged him about getting a screening, but not even she could talk him into it. Five years later, Darnell saw blood in his stool. A screening colonoscopy found colon cancer.
"I thought that was the beginning of the end of my life," Darnell recalls.
The surgeon removed part of his large intestine, reconnected his colon and declared him cancer free.
Spreading the word about early detection
Now Darnell tells any man who will listen to get a colonoscopy at age 50 and a digital rectal exam during their annual physical. Colon and prostate cancer are two of the most preventable cancers, yet they occur in alarmingly high numbers among African-Americans and are more likely to kill people of color than whites.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among African- Americans. African-Americans are less likely to receive annual screenings than whites and more likely to have colon cancer diagnosed in later stages when it is harder to treat and survival is less likely.
“There is no reason for people to die from this disease,” Darnell says. “It can be prevented through polyp removal or discovered early and treated effectively. Since my experience with colon cancer, I eat leaner meat and more fresh vegetables. I still like my fried chicken, but I take off the skin, which is full of fat, or I eat just a little. I exercise more than I used to and now, more than 10 years out, I feel pretty good.”