SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - An Illinois House Democratic leader hopes to encourage more screening for prostate cancer by sharing his own experience with the deadly disease.
Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) was diagnosed with prostate cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 48-year-old knew he had to act quickly to address the disease, as he just recovered from having COVID-19.
Ford said early detection helped save his life. He feels the Lord blessed him and allowed him to tell his story to help others.
"Cancer in the prostate doesn't have to be a death sentence," Ford said. "It's something that you can beat. And I think that people should make sure that they have a relationship with a doctor."
Gov. JB Pritzker stood alongside Ford to support him during a press conference Thursday. Pritzker emphasized cancer is very personal for everyone. He also noted prostate cancer is the most common cancer in African American men after skin cancers.
"It's time, frankly, that we have a collective alertness to its pervasiveness," Pritzker said. "Just as importantly, it's time that our institutions all across this state, all across this nation gave the racial disparities that plague so much of our healthcare access, outcomes, and delivery the fullest attention that they deserve."
The governor also thanked experts at Northwestern Medicine for their work to better understand how those disparities "weave" through prostate cancer treatment.
Identify cancer symptoms sooner
Pritzker recently signed the massive Legislative Black Caucus healthcare reform proposal into law, making access to medical professionals more affordable for all. Telehealth coverage also became a top priority for the administration during the pandemic.
"Even in poor areas of our state or remote areas, the initial signs of cancer or other diseases, the symptoms, can be identified sooner," Pritzker explained.
Ford said he goes through routine health screenings all the time. He actually went in for a colonoscopy after Chadwick Boseman, famous for playing the Black Panther, died from colon cancer. Ford also requested a PSA exam, but he received abnormal results.
"It's really stressful when you have something abnormal happening and your number is high knowing that this could be cancer, not knowing if it's cancer that's contained or if it's already spread," Ford explained.
Ford is cancer-free after successful surgery on January 28. In fact, he ran in a 5K race a month later. He stressed people on Medicaid should know they have insurance and shouldn't be afraid to use it for screenings. Ford says advocating for yourself is critical.
"No matter where you are with your finances, find a doctor, find a hospital, and get help," Ford added.