On the cold April 8 morning, a sliver of sunlight illuminated West Potomac Park where Stephen Jefferson and his wife were registering  people for a 5K walk to bring awareness to prostate cancer.

Stephen Jefferson talks to walkers at West Potomac Park (Photo by Hamil Harris)

In June of 2009 Jefferson was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent surgery performed by Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, then a surgeon and now president of Howard University.

“We have to fight for our lives,” said Jefferson, who has gone from being a patient to a health educator when it comes to prostate cancer.  “For Blacks suffering with cancer our mortality rate is higher and part of this is because we have to travel so far for treatment.”

The District of Columbia has the highest prostate cancer incidence rate and death rate in the country, but that is not a new story. But it’s motivation enough for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of D.C.  to host a 5k Prostate Cancer Walk for the last six years.

“The main goal of this walk is to get people to understand that in the District of Columbia we have the highest mortality rate of prostate cancer,” Jefferson told participants. “This is due for a few reasons that include we as Black men do not go to the doctor.”

Clinton Burnside,  coordinator of the prostate awareness program at the Howard University Cancer Center, said “African-American men, especially those in D.C., are at a much higher risk getting Prostate cancer and even dying, so we are doing more research in terms of prostate cancer awareness and detection.”

Dr. Jackson Davis, a retired Howard University Hospital urologist, also took part in the walk. Davis said technology has greatly improved so there is no reason why men should not get treated.

“One of the latest treatments is called cyber knife. It doesn’t involve cutting. With cyber knife they guide a radiation beam to a specific area,” Davis said. “This eliminates some of the side affects in radiating tissue in the pelvic area.” Side effects include bladder problems and sperm reduction, according to the American Cancer Society.

Burnside said there is a lot of genetic research looking into why so many Blacks get Prostate Cancer and there is not clear answer.

“We want men to come and get screened because of the risk factors: being an African American, being overweight, having a lack of exercise, and our diet,” Burnside said “This is why we want men to get to know their PSA numbers and to get a digital rectal exam.”