Al Roker Talks Prostate Cancer, Wellness And His Recent Visit To Chicago

In a candid Q&A, Al Roker discusses his battle with prostate cancer, the importance of men’s health awareness and his impactful storytelling initiatives, while also sharing humorous anecdotes and advice for a healthier lifestyle.

Here’s one indisputable truth about Black men and preventable health conditions: They are more likely to die from them than any other ethnic group. 

This is especially true for prostate cancer in that one in six Black men will develop it in his lifetime, compared to one in eight men overall. Plus, Black men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and die from it than White men, states ZERO Prostate Cancer, the non-profit organization dedicated to prostate cancer education and research.

Recently, former NBA great Alonzo Mourning had his prostate removed after a cancer diagnosis and is pushing for more men to get checked. 

Adding to that chorus is famous NBC “Today” show weatherman, personality, journalist and author Al Roker, who was recently in town for a speaking engagement at the Social Innovation Summit 2024, which took place at the JW Marriott Chicago downtown. The title of his topic was “Empowering Narratives: Storytelling To Shape Your Brand’s Impact.”

In a virtual interview with The Chicago Defender, Roker touched on the Social Innovation Summit topic and candidly addressed his well-chronicled health and wellness journey, which included a prostate cancer diagnosis. For good measure, he also weaved in some well-timed Rodney Dangerfield jokes. 

Empowering Narratives at the Social Innovation Summit

Tacuma Roeback: Can you talk about what you will address at the Social Innovation Summit?

Al Roker: We’ve had a long history of doing impactful programming, whether branded or not, that stands on its own. From work on childhood hunger for ConAgra brands to a program about healthcare heroes during the pandemic for Northwell Health to a recent award-winning documentary for John Deere on the plight of Black farmers and Black farmland. 

It’s what we do besides doing, you know, traditional television. We also help stories get out there with the help of a brand.  What’s made us so very fortunate is that we’ve had terrific partners who aren’t looking to push their brand out front.  They want the story to be the message.

There’s nothing worse than feeling you’re having a commercial shoved at you, as opposed to a great story that happens to be presented by a company.

Al Roker and Michael Counter at the Social Innovation Summit 2024

Al Roker and Michael Counter at the Social Innovation Summit 2024 (Credit: Al Roker Entertainment, Facebook).

Tacuma Roeback: When you say “we,” are you referring to Al Roker Entertainment?

Al Roker: Yes, Al Roker Entertainment.  Susan Jin Davis is going to be joining me along with Michael Counter, who is one of our great branded [content] folks. I’ve known Susan since she worked at Comcast. She was in charge of sustainability. So, we bring [a plethora] of experience in storytelling and partnering and making sure that all different voices are heard.

The Impact of the ‘Today’ Show Plaza

Tacuma Roeback: The “Today” Show recently celebrated 30 years on the Plaza. What does the Plaza mean to you, and what have been some of the most meaningful interactions you’ve had there?

Al Roker: When the Today show first started in 1952, we had a window on the world. 

The Today show itself was groundbreaking at the time. Nobody was programming early morning television, let alone having a studio where people could actually wave, and people back home could see. At that point, a lot of people didn’t even have TVs. 

We jumped ahead almost 40 years to 1994, and we moved our studio down to what is now Studio 1A. We’ve become a destination, much like people come to see the Statue of Liberty. When they come to New York, they come to see the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Tiffany’s, and the Today show—the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, all that. So that has been one of the things I think differentiates us from others.

There was this point where all the morning shows had an outside studio. They all decided, ‘Oh well, we have to have one too.’ And we’re the last one standing. Eventually, they all pulled back. Because we’ve got this—I don’t know—secret sauce.

I’m not bragging; it’s just that we’ve got a terrific crew that can bring out the best in people. I’m talking about our technical crew and producers. 

From two guys kissing on camera, which became an episode of “Will and Grace,” to people getting married or proposing to each other, to people announcing they’re pregnant or they’re expecting their first child, that Plaza audience is as much a part of the show as any of us.

Al Roker’s Personal Health Journey

Tacuma Roeback: I wanted to transition into June, which is Men’s Health Month. You’ve been an outspoken advocate and very transparent about your journey. Can you talk about your journey to health and wellness, and if you’d like to share anything about that?

Al Roker: I think some things have been foisted on you, and you just kind of go with it. Most importantly, especially for your audience, I think guys tend not to be very proactive about their health, to begin with. Certain elements of our health, we’re really reticent to talk about. 

Certainly, when you talk about prostate cancer, African-American males are almost four times more likely to develop prostate cancer and twice as likely to die from it. There are any number of reasons for that, from access, or lack thereof, to health care and testing to being embarrassed. I’ve had to deal with it. 

Listen, it’s not a walk in the park, but given the alternative, there are any number of different kinds of treatment protocols that you can choose. I chose surgery because I’m of the mindset that I just want this out; I don’t want to have to worry about it. That’s two and a half years ago, and I’m now at the point where I only have to get checked once a year, and that’s that. Life goes on. 

Look, the fact of the matter is, if you live long enough as a male, you will probably die with prostate cancer. But if you get checked and tested, you will not die from it.

Encouraging Conversations About Prostate Cancer

Tacuma Roeback: That’s a really powerful point that I don’t think is emphasized enough. Would you repeat that for our audience?

Al Roker: If you live long enough as a male, especially as an African American male, you will probably die with prostate cancer, meaning you may develop it. But if you’re in your late 80s or 90s, you’ll probably die with prostate cancer, but that won’t be the reason why you died. Whereas if you don’t get tested, if you don’t get checked, as an African-American male, you are twice as likely to die from it than your white counterpart. So, what do you want? What’s the outcome that you’re looking for? [In avoiding getting tested, some people would say] ‘Oh, I would die of embarrassment.’ 

Well, it would be embarrassing if you died because you didn’t get tested. It would be beyond embarrassing; it would be a tragedy—especially with something like prostate cancer that can be so easily treated.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Tacuma Roeback: Black men are 79% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than other ethnicities. Are there any more insights you’d like to share about the necessity of getting tested?

Al Roker: Here’s something that, if you got a checkup, they can easily test for. Nobody likes the physical exam for it. It’s that old bit from “Fletch” with Chevy Chase, you know, (sings) “Moooon Riverrrr.”

Tacuma Roeback: (Laughs)

Al Roker: But it’s literally five seconds of discomfort. Is it worth not having that and having something happen that cuts your longevity short? We need to be much more vocal about it and supportive of each other about it.

If you’ve got a friend, especially if you’re above the age of 50—even some protocols now say 45—so that you determine a baseline, have you asked a friend of yours, your brother, or your cousin, ‘Have you gotten tested?’

Have you had a physical and a blood test, PSA test for prostate cancer? It’s one of the easiest things to do.

Al Roker’s Health Tips: Small Changes, Big Impact 

Tacuma Roeback: Indeed. Is there anything else you’d like to add, especially regarding health and wellness?

Al Roker: Well, I think people look at things as either all in or nothing. ‘If I’m not running five miles a day, and I’m not working out three days a week, and I’m not on a strict diet, then what the hell, you know. But I think little changes add up. Something is better than nothing. 

So, instead of parking the car as close to the mall or the grocery store as possible, park a little further away. Go for a walk after dinner. Little things that add up. Most mornings, I do 20 minutes on my treadmill, and I do a 10-minute, either upper or lower-body workout. I take 30 minutes, maybe 40 tops. I try to get 10,000 steps a day. I went 210 days in a row getting that. Then I broke the streak, and now it’s gone. Now, I’m at 23 days. 

The old me would have been really upset and would have just stopped, ‘Well, I broke the streak, what’s the point?’ Well, the point is, you keep going. So I would say, make changes in small increments, and then you’ll be surprised. 

There’s an old joke. I always remember Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian, saying, ‘So, I went into my doctor, and he said, ‘You’re overweight. I want you to walk five miles a day. Call me at the end of the week.’ So, I called him at the end of the week. He said, ‘How are you doing? Where are you?’ [Rodney Dangerfield] said, ‘I’m great, but I’m 35 miles from home.’

Tacuma Roeback: (Laughing) Indeed, rest in peace to Rodney Dangerfield, the legend.

Al Roker: The other health joke was, ‘I went to my doctor, Doctor Vinnie Boombatz, and he said, ‘Hey, I want you to lose about 30 pounds. You’re about 30 overweight.’ I goes, ‘I want to get a second opinion.’ He goes, ‘Okay, you’re ugly.’

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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