Last week, I had an opportunity to see the power of God firsthand—had my faith tradition reinforced and saw the strength in medicine, all working together for the good! Please don’t get me confused with those folks that say every Sunday what the Lord told them to tell YOU; you can relax and keep reading, this message does not come with an offering envelope, but I do want to take this time to testify.
I was asked to help produce an educational video entitled, “In My Shoes”. In the video, we addressed the issue of clinical trials, cancer, treatment, care, and research from a Black and Brown perspective as both members of the Black and Brown community, as well as consumers. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to do this. I was excited for a couple of reasons. First, because the woman I love more than my next breath, my Mother, died of small cell lung cancer. She was the one who introduced me to God and the power of faith. I’m not talking about her just taking my brothers, my sister and me to church. I saw this woman feed the multitudes (all six of us) with less than five loaves of bread and two fish, and like the folks in the book of Matthew, guess what, we NEVER saw a hungry day!
Here’s what’s really deep to me. At least four or five times a year, my Mother would hit the numbers (today you call it lotto) and it was always around July 4th, so in September, at the start of the new school year we all got new school clothes. Then in November, she would hit again, and Thanksgiving was always off-the-chain and after us celebrating a fantastic dinner with family and friends, she would always have enough money left to put our Christmas gifts, and clothes on Lay-away (faith), and you guessed it, come December 25th, do I need to tell you that our Christmas was unbelievable! Starting the new year, from January until July, my Mother would work her magic again—so much so, if we were poor, I didn’t know it. She would always say, “God will always make a way”, and she was right.
So, when I was approached to help produce this video to educate the Black community about the importance of Black people participating in clinical trials and research around cancer, I said, ‘Lets GO!’ After losing the greatest gift, next to God being in my life, my mission is to do all that I can to help prolong Black life. I can hear some of y’all saying, “Tony, have you forgotten about Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, HIV/AIDS, Covid-19 and God knows whatever else their doing?” That’s the very reason I do what I do around Black health and education. I’m at the medical table to ensure that Black people, and other vulnerable people aren’t on the medical menu. It’s also very important that we as a people, never forget that we have thousands of brilliant Black physicians, researchers, scientists, and community health activists all working together around health equality and access, to keep them honest. Black people let’s be clear, there’s not one single area in life where we don’t have to do our due diligence to ensure that we’re not being taken advantage of, and it ain’t only in medicine.
So, I started asking my friends did they know anyone who had been dealing with cancer and had been involved in a clinical trial. Well guess what, believe it or not, it didn’t take me a week before I found two very good friends of mine that I’ve known for some time that said to me, “I was in a clinical trial.” My dear friend Gloria had been in a clinical trial to treat her for Multiple Myeloma and my buddy Andre had been in a clinical trial to treat prostate cancer and after I made some calls, I met my newest friend, Raul who had been diagnosed with skin cancer. Well guess what—what I thought was just going to be an educational video to help educate and encourage Black and Brown people to the importance of us, as a people, being involved in clinical trials and research, turned out to be one of THE most, if not the most spiritual experience of my life!
What made this experience so spiritual for me was that all three of them said separately as I was conducting individual interviews with them, they all said that when their doctors told them that they had cancer, they never thought that God had put a period at the end of that sentence. As a matter-of-fact, Gloria said she told her doctor, “So what’s the next steps, lets go!” Andre was no different, he said he started reading everything he could put his hands on about prostate cancer and Raul said, unlike Gloria and Andre, his skin cancer was on his face and all-over different parts of his body, unlike Gloria and Andre’s cancers which weren’t visible to the naked eye, his defiance of cancer was a little bit more difficult, but his belief in God and his doctor was greater than the Lentigo Maligna Melanor he could see in the mirror.
I asked them would it be okay to have a roundtable conversation after we complete the individual conversations, and they all said yes. One of the first questions I asked was, ‘Did you guys ever think you were going to die?’ Gloria said without hesitation, “Hell no, I don’t think so, I got grandkids, and a new husband—I ain’t going nowhere!” Oh, did I tell you Gloria got married five years ago to the love of her life at the young age of 75 years old? Andre said, “Tony, I have too much work to do in our community, with and for our people, yes I know about Tuskegee and Henrietta Lacks and all other practices that were unprinciple, that this society has done to our people but I also know that there are great people, people that look just like me that are doing great work in the area of health, research, science, and medicine. And yes, I believe in traditional medicine, I also believe that it can work in concert with western medicine as well.” Raul said that he felt like his doctor was an angel, sent to him and when she referred him to a clinical trial, he just knew that this was the answer to his prayers. Raul has since joined several community advisory boards addressing a few different disease states facing the Latino community and delivering a message of education, information, and hope to his community.
I spent three days with three of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. In those three-day, I learned two important things. Black people, we can no longer be left behind, and we are each other’s medicine and together, we can make life better for future generations to come!