Fighting Cancer in D.C. a Lifelong Passion for One Survivor

Stephen Jefferson talks to participants in a 5K walk for cancer awareness at West Potomac Park in northwest D.C. on April 8. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
Stephen Jefferson talks to participants in a 5K walk for cancer awareness at West Potomac Park in northwest D.C. on April 8. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)

At the cold crack of dawn Saturday, Stephen Jefferson and his wife were feverishly working in West Potomac Park to register people for a 5K walk to bring awareness to prostate cancer.

The fifth annual Prostate Cancer Walk was sponsored by Phillip David, Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of D.C.

Davis and Jefferson both stressed the importance of men getting screened for a disease that need not be deadly.

“The main goal of this walk is to get people to understand that in the District of Columbia we have the highest mortality rate of prostate cancer,” Jefferson told participants before they walked. “This is due [to] a few reasons that include we as black men [not going] to the doctor.”

In 2009, Jefferson was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His physician, Dr. Wayne Frederick, performed the surgery at Howard University Hospital to remove a cancerous growth.

Today Frederick is the president of Howard University and Jefferson is one of the staunchest advocates of the hospital’s cancer program.

“We have to fight for our lives,” Jefferson said. “For blacks suffering with cancer, our mortality rate is higher and part of this is because we have to travel so far for treatment.”

D.C. has the nation’s highest rates of prostate cancer incidence and deaths from the disease, according to 2012 data from North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Skip Lockwood, CEO of ZERO — The Project to End Prostate Cancer, said at the time the high rate of cancer among men of color due to mistrust and skeptics.

“Recent studies have shown that distrust of the medical system accounts for delays in using health care, especially among older African-American men,” Lockwood said, the News Medical website reported.

Clinton Burnside, coordinator of the MenTake Ten prostate awareness program at the Howard University Cancer Center, said African-American men, especially in D.C., are at a much higher risk for developing prostate cancer and dying from the disease.

“We are doing more research in terms of prostate cancer awareness and detection,” he said.

Burnside said there is lot of genetic research looking into why so many African-American get prostate cancer, but there is no clear answer.

“We want men to come and get screened because of the risk factors — being an African-American, being overweight, having a lack of exercise and our diet,” Burnside said. “This is why we want men to get to know their [prostate-specific antigen] numbers and to get a digital rectal examination.”

Dr. Jackson Davis, a retired Howard University Hospital urologist who also took part in the walk, said technology has greatly improved so there is no reason why men should not get treated.

“One of the latest treatments is called cyber knife, it doesn’t involve cutting,” he said. “With [the] cyber knife, they guide a radiation beam to a specific area. This eliminates some of the side affects in radiating tissue in the pelvic area.”

About Hamil Harris – Washington Informer Contributing Writer 30 Articles
Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.