On August 28, 2020, the world lost a brave superhero by the name of Chadwick Boseman, who passed away at the age of 43 from Stage IV colon cancer. Boseman was an outstanding actor and a positive role model for Black youth, especially through his portrayal as King T’Challa, The Black Panther in the blockbuster film. Although Chadwick Boseman was lauded as an amazing actor, his death due to colon cancer has placed him at the forefront. It has positioned a spotlight on the issue of black people and colorectal cancer, particularly early detection, survival, and access to resources and education.
According to the American Cancer Society, minority and medically-underserved communities have the highest rate of late-stage diagnosis and death from colon cancer. This disease is 90% preventable with early detection. According to the National Institutes of Health, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the U.S. and the second most common cause of cancer-related death. Colorectal cancer incidence in African Americans is 20% higher than in whites and an even more significant difference in mortality rates. Because of these statistics and her own experiences, while battling colon cancer, Candace Henley founded The Blue Hat Foundation in 2015 to educate, advocate, and support those in black and underserved communities living with colorectal cancer or helping family members living with the disease.
Diagnosed at an Early Age
Candace Henley, a 17-year colon cancer survivor, was diagnosed at the age of 35 years old. She believes that it is essential that our community understands that colon cancer is not an illness that only affects older people – people as young as 14 years old have been diagnosed; physicians see more patients at younger ages with the disease. She shared, “Families that have a history of colon cancer must be intentional about sharing this information, as it could save the life of a family member. For me, it was 13 years after her diagnosis that Candace learned her family had a history of colon cancer. Had I known about this family history, I would have been more intentional about screening much earlier.”
Henley is grateful for the opportunities to share her experiences and to advocate for patients whenever she can. Henley is a beacon of hope for patients undergoing treatment and supports families as their loved ones battle the disease. She has been recognized for her outstanding and selfless work in colorectal awareness. She is the recipient of several awards, including the 2017 Colorectal Cancer Screening Survivor Champion of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable. This award recognizes leaders and leadership in the ongoing effort to increase colorectal cancer screening rates in the U.S.
The Blue Hat Foundation
Many people in black and underserved communities do not have medical insurance and cannot self-pay for colorectal cancer screenings. Locally, The Blue Hat Foundation, in partnership with several community organizations, such as Women on Top of Their Game, Imerman Angels, the University of Chicago Hospital, the University of Illinois Hospital, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Advocate Healthcare, in efforts to provide free screenings to these communities.
In addition to the community partnerships, The Blue Hat Foundation hosts an annual “Blue Hat and Bow Tie Sunday” in churches across the country. During Blue Hat and Bow Tie Sunday, congregations dress in blue hats or bow ties in shades of blue, supporting patient survivors and in memory of those who have died from the disease. Information on early detection and screening is also provided, and congregations have the opportunity to speak with physicians and receive useful information in the fight against colorectal cancer.
Future plans for the Blue Hat Foundation include increasing awareness and education, particularly for Black men, partnering with more community partners with a focus on men’s health, and to continue to speak on Capitol Hill regarding funding, accessibility for those with no insurance or on Medicare, and to remove barriers to receive necessary services to reduce the number of blacks and underserved diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Finally, as Candace Henley stated during a recent interview, “We do not need another Chadwick Boseman. We don’t want this to happen to another family. Fear the disease – the disease is the issue; the screening…15 minutes!”
For information, The Blue Hat Foundation and colorectal cancer awareness and visit www.bluehatfoundation.org and the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.
Contributing Writer, Donna Hammond lives in Chicago. Find her on social media at Twitter: @DeeLois623 Facebook: Donna Hammond.