CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Discussion around prostate cancer is in the top of news headlines around the country.
Leaders in Washington revealed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was treated for prostate cancer in Dec., which lead to complications. Since Austin was tight lipped about his condition, advocates are raising awareness about shocking numbers of black men who are impacted by the disease.
North Carolina ranks 11th in the nation for new prostate cancer cases and 20th for deaths, according to UNC at Chapel Hill. Fleenoil Lane Jr. says he understands why Austin was private about his prostate diagnosis. Lane is a husband, father, and business executive from Durham, who has his own story.
"I remember when I was diagnosed I didn't tell my wife until I had to go for a biopsy," said Fleenoil Lane. "And I didn't share it with my children until about seven years afterwards."
Lane said the hesitation was witnessing his father and three uncles die from prostate cancer.
"As a provider for my family I had a certain amount of pride and wanting to be that caretaker so I didn't want to scare them," said Lane, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 53.
"The most common symptom of prostate cancer is nothing at all," said Dr. Leroy Darkes. "So it's very easy to ignore this."
Black men are 1.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 2.3 times more likely, according to UNC.
"If there is a family history, meaning there's a brother, uncle or father with prostate cancer, men should start to be screened for prostate cancer or have a discussion with their doctors about being screened at a younger age somewhere around 40," said Dr. Marc Bjurlin, Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of North Carolina and Director of Clinical Trials
Screening includes a physical portion and a blood test.
"And that's very informative in terms of identifying men who may be harboring prostate cancer and perhaps would then benefit from a prostate biopsy," said Bjurlin.
Dr. Leroy Darkes works in internal medicine and also leads the NC Minority Prostate Cancer Awareness Action Team. For decades the group has provided outreach to churches, civic groups, and schools.
"It is not because we are African American men," said Darkes, "because if we get screened properly we can do as well as everyone else."
In 2023, Darkes became a patient and was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
"Why me, how could this possibly happen, all of that," he said.
Darkes said a survivor or 'shepherd' as the Action Team calls them, guided him through recovery.
"My faith," said Darkes, "And my shepherd. I had an excellent shepherd."
Early action and treatment for black men, means life. Dr. Leroy Darkes, Advocate and Survivor: "What I want men to hear and see, that here I am. I am a survivor," said Darkes.
"If you want to live you're going to do the things you need to do to survive," said Lane.
You can learn more about the NC Minority Prostate Cancer Awareness Action Team here.