What felt like a sore throat one Saturday morning in 2010 turned out to be thyroid cancer for actor and author, Hill Harper. He shared his story as keynote speaker for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital’s 15th Annual Survivor’s Day to commemorate those who survived childhood cancers. Three years later, Harper’s cancer-free and awaiting the release of his fifth book while enjoying a new role as Calder Michaels on USA’s Covert Affairs.

Busy schedule aside, Harper no neglects his health. He’s determined to break the cycle of cancer that runs on the paternal side of his family, and that begins with self-awareness. “You can obviously attempt to do everything right, but I have a friend who’s vegan who never drank a drop of alcohol, and she was diagnosed with cancer, so sometimes, you just don’t know,” he says. “You can live a healthy lifestyle and do the best to be aware of your body and conscious, and that’s what I attempt to do.”

He adds, “I am more mindful now, and also more at ease. I would recommend that for everyone. If it doesn’t feel quite right, get it checked out.”

Staying healthy is a priority, as Harper is known for pumping out projects from bestselling books and movie and sitcom roles and engaging in philanthropy to benefit the African-American community. His fifth book, Letters to An Incarcerated Brother: Encouragement, Hope, and Healing for Inmates and Their Loved Ones, is set for release on November 5. Inspired by letters he’s received from young men in prison over the years, it’s a motivational book for those incarcerated and their families.

“The incarceration of our youth right now for young African American and Latinos is something that no one’s really talking about,” Harper says. “It is the issue of our time. I wanted to do something that and hopefully brings more attention to talking about solutions to that issue.”

It was a letter from a teenaged boy named Brian that inspired Harper to write what he considers to be his most important work. “His letter touched me–just the innocence and the way it was written. When you read the letter in the book, it’s written probably at 4th grade letter. And you say, did he fail us or did we fail him?”

Harper built a relationship with Brian, who’s now in his early 20s, over time, even sending manuscripts to him in prison to make sure the book would connect with readers.

Letters to An Incarcerated Brother isn’t only for young men in prison, but addresses universal themes for all. The primary audience can’t purchase books in bookstores or online, so publishing has been an obstacle.

As he does with his health and other parts of his career, he continues to push ahead. Harper’s using grassroots strategies, asking the community to support by purchasing books for men incarcerated in nearby institutions as a gift. “Many of us are in are in our own prisons that aren’t made of iron bars,” he says. “Hopefully, the book will help gain some freedom there.

Alisha Tillery is a freelance writer living in Memphis, Tennessee. She writes about lifestyle and culture and fiction at her blog, Because I Said So