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Preventive Cancer Screenings And The Barriers: A Testimonial

By Anjanette Wells, Jerry Davis, Steve Sunderland, & Angela Bird

Jerry Davis is a 54-year-old single African American who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in OTR. He is a high school graduate with some college (< 1 year). He is a long-time member of the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and works several part-time jobs, one of which includes selling Street Vibes newspapers. He does not have a car, but typically uses public transportation. He understands well, that the daily hassles of life can often get in the way of his health. “When you’re working a lot, other things can get in the way of my health, and your health is not a concern,” Jerry admits. Before 2012 when Jerry moved into housing, he “was just living.” He reports, “I didn’t have any health issues or problems, but I also didn’t have a primary physican or take physicals; and I didn’t have health insurance, but I didn’t think I needed it.”

Jerry shares his story of circumstances that initially delayed him from seeking preventive cancer screening. He feels that the lack of awareness, fear, substance abuse, mental health issues, cost and housing are all factors that got in the way of him initially not getting preventive health care services. Jerry reveals, “Cancer is a big thing in my family. My mother died of lung cancer and my grandmother died of cancer (type unknown) …. My mom, my step-dad, and my sister all smoked, so I began smoking in high school. That was my first mistake I made.” Jerry admits smoking “roughly a pack a day or within a 24 hour period.” He goes on to say, “I’ve thought about quitting smoking, but plan to quit before I turn 55. My aunt has COPD, so I need to think about quitting.” One of the first persons who recommended that Jerry stop smoking was a social worker. “I tried chewing gum a few times, but it didn’t really work, and I began to eat more, gain weight, and this led to other health issues.” Jerry plans to reconnect with the social worker at the clinic to try to get support in his efforts to stop smoking. He now has Buckeye health insurance, which can facilitate these efforts.

Jerry recalls the precipitating event that encouraged him to begin prioritizing his health for the first time - hernia surgery. At this time, he went to the hospital for emergency hernia surgery. After surgery, he was referred to a primary care physician who recommended he have a prostate screening exam. He admited being worried: “I hoped they didn’t find anything, because my foster father died of prostate cancer and cancer runs in my family.” It took about one week to receive his results through the mail; and when he received the results they were negative, which he was relieved about. Prior to meeting this physican, he was not aware that he needed to have a prostate exam.

Another motivating experience that encouraged Jerry to begin thinking about his health was during a health fair at the Duke Convention Center in 2007. While at the health fair, he heard Richard Roundtree (an African American actor who is well known for his portrayal of private detective, John Shaft in the 1971 film - “Shaft”) speak about his diagnosis of breast cancer. Just like many people, Jerry “did not know that men could get breast cancer.” However, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates for breast cancer in men in the United States this year (2019), there are approximately 2,670 new diagnosed cases of invasive breast cancer and approximately 500 men will die from breast cancer (https:// Although breast cancer is less common among men, ACS recommends that men should still pay attention to breast lumps, especially men with a strong family history of breast cancer should get breast exams.

Given Jerry’s family history of cancer, he still worries about his risk but realizes that if it is caught early, he will have the best outcome. Last year, Jerry reported he went to the clinic and they suggested that he have a colorectal cancer examination, which he did. He reports it also came back negative. Jerry believes there continues to be an urgent need for better education and access to these preventive cancer screenings.

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