CHICAGO (WLS) -- State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, hopes his own health scare will help save lives. He's encouraging men to get screened for prostate cancer after he was diagnosed with the illness last year.
Cancer-free and ready to talk about it, Ford was surrounded by his doctors and Gov. JB Pritzker at Northwestern Medicine Thursday to share his very personal story after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2020.
"I requested a PSA test exam, and the numbers came back abnormal," Ford said.
Being under 50, the test was not part of Ford's routine battery of tests. But he made a point of requesting one.
"I do recall Dr. Schaeffer saying this is an aggressive cancer and we have to move on it right away otherwise it will be a painful, a painful death," Ford said.
According to doctors, Black men are 50% more likely to get prostate cancer, and twice as likely to die from it.
And while there are genetic reasons for that, there are environmental and social ones as well, including overcoming a deep-seated mistrust in the health system.
"It's a huge issue. And to tell a personal story, my father had prostate cancer and he did not want to get treated. And I advocated for him; he was just scared. He didn't know what to do, where to go, what questions to ask," said Dr. Nelson Bennett, a urologist at Northwestern Medicine.
"First it was shock. Then denial. And then I waited for a while to tell my wife," prostate cancer survivor Elverage Allen said.
That was over a year ago. In a recently launched podcast, Allen and his wife Shae are using their experience to help others answer the same difficult questions they had when going through the process.
But it all starts with testing. Current guidelines indicate African American men or those with family history, should get screened beginning at age 40. It is a test that is entirely free for those covered under Medicaid in Illinois.