In 2008, a few days after a routine physical, R&B crooner Charlie Wilson received news that changed his life forever. He had prostate cancer. Wilson, who’s given us sweet, soulful music for over 40 years, first with the iconic funk trio the Gap Band, and then as a chart-topping solo artist, was understandably devastated. But with the support of his family, particularly his wife Mahin, who made that initial doctor appointment for him, he was able to pull through and today is cancer free, still electrifying audiences and stronger than ever.
Here, “Uncle Charlie” talks about his journey with prostate cancer and why Black men need to get serious about their health.
EBONY: African-American men are 1.6 times more likely to get prostate cancer, and more than twice as likely to die from it. How familiar with the disease were you before you were diagnosed?
Charlie Wilson: My dad was ill when I found out I had prostate cancer. I was quite surprised when he told me that he had it, but had never shared that information with anyone in our family. I wasn’t familiar with it at all, but once I got the diagnosis, and I thank God that it was detected early, my wife and I did a lot of research to determine the best treatment for me.
EBONY: Do you remember what was going through your head after you received your diagnosis? How did you face this new challenge in your life?
CW: I was numb. Like so many people, the word “cancer” terrified me. The doctor said he had good and bad news. The bad news was that I had prostate cancer and the good news was that it was detected early and could be treated. My supportive family and my faith in God made facing the challenge easier.
EBONY: How did your battle with cancer affect your family and your life?
CW: My family was positive from the outset. Our faith is strong and prayer is our daily ritual. When I found out the number of African-American men who die from this disease because they don’t discuss it with their doctor, I knew I had to share my story. I became a spokesman for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and did workshops around the country. I still speak about prostate cancer at my concerts.
EBONY: You are now cancer free. How are you keeping yourself healthy these days?
CW: A healthy diet and a daily workout regimen, which includes a daily power walk or light jog with my wife, and an hour of weight training.
EBONY: There are a lot of Black men who don’t think it’s important to be screened for prostate cancer or may not be aware of the seriousness of the disease. What advice would you give to those men?
CW: My advice is not only for Black men, but also for their wives, partners, sisters as well. Men don’t want to go to the doctor and they don’t want to have the prostate exam, so I ask the ladies to take control, similar to the way my wife took control, and insist the men in their lives have a prostate exam.
EBONY: What would you say to someone who has just been diagnosed with prostate cancer?
CW: If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, talk about treatments with your medical practitioner. Don’t let the word “cancer” paralyze you. See what your options are and then determine the best treatment. Go to sites like Prostate Cancer Foundation and do research. And tell your family. Don’t keep it a secret—you need their support.
EBONY: What have you learned about yourself during this journey.
CW: This journey has taught me that I am so blessed to have a wife and family who love and support me. It has also taught me that God has a path for all of us to travel and I hope by sharing my story I have made someone else’s journey a bit easier.
LaShieka Hunter is a freelance writer and editor based on Long Island, N.Y. Follow her on Twitter.