Gen X’ers, I think we need to have an important conversation.
Now, I might be coming to you as a Millennial, but I’m an older one. I’m more like your younger sibling than I am the obnoxious cousin you used to babysit at the family reunions while all the Capital G Grown Folks were drunk and playing Spades.
Basically, don’t look at me like the Boomers do. Take me seriously in this moment, because I’m coming to you from a place of love.
Last month, Chadwick Boseman passed away. According to his family, he had developed stage 4 colon cancer years ago, and was getting treatment for his condition intermittently while filming the epic roles we all known and love him for—42, the story of Jackie Robinson; Get on Up, his depiction of James Brown; and Black Panther, which really needs no description at this point. His penchant for playing legendary characters and bringing our stories to life has left an indelible mark on our country, the globe, and—most importantly—the culture.
Colorectal cancer, more broadly known as colon cancer, isn’t rare at all. It’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, second only to lung cancer. Colon cancer is basically when cells within the lining of the colon and large intestine grow out of control and form cancerous tumors that can cause pain and blockages in the colon. However, because so few people are tested regularly for colon cancer and cancerous cells, by the time the cancer is detected, it has traveled to and infected other parts of the body—at that point, the only real treatment with any reliable results is chemotherapy.
Colon cancer is a condition that doctors usually start testing you for once you’re well into your 50s, because that’s when research shows you’re most likely to begin developing cancerous cells. And advances in medical science have made it such that deaths attributed to all cancers have decreased over time.
I know that I’m talking a lot about colorectal cancer, but this isn’t about that at all.
Chadwick passed away at the age of 43. Forty-three. While it must be pointed out we don’t know the particulars of his diagnosis or when he received it, we can safely point out a few things: 1, his family acknowledged that he had reached stage 4 after being diagnosed in 2016, prior to the start of filming for Panther; 2, because he was diagnosed well before his 43rd birthday, he had to have been tested long before he would’ve even entered the age range when your doctor would even broach the subject.
What makes this so important, is that for you, dear Gen X’er, this is the case for virtually every condition.
Research is showing that diseases largely associated with approaching retirement age are being found well before we would normally expect. Conditions that are normally found in 50 and 60 year olds are being uncovered in younger and younger people.
That includes me and my cohort of older Millennials but, more specifically, that includes you.
We are finding 40 year olds who require the kinds of heart medication and diabetes medication that is normally prescribed to late 50s and 60 year olds. For Black Gen X’ers, doubly so—colon cancer is found in younger and younger patients especially when they’re Black, and because we know that health care is not as readily available for Black people as it is for White America for numerous reasons, the mortality rate is higher for us. Conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol are hitting younger and needing more aggressive prescription treatment at younger ages. It’s one thing to detect a problem that can be addressed early with behavior intervention; it’s another thing to be at the point of requiring medication. It’s the difference between “it’s time to stop smoking” and “now, you need chemotherapy.”
Be clear—this isn’t about “you’re getting old” jokes, or even jokes at all. It’s not about your age, it’s about a discrepancy in health care that isn’t getting through to the doctors who are most likely to treat you. It’s bad for Generation X, but it’s also worse for Millennials. However, since we know Boomers generally don’t care about anyone but themselves, it is entirely possible that the Gen X’ers we grew up watching Video Soul and TRL with, who rushed to record our favorite song on cassette tape with us, and who were just as shook as we were when Aaliyah died could never get the feedback that we Millennials still have time to receive.
Gen Xers must be encouraged and empowered to ask for the kinds of proactive care that can help keep them in full health. We all need to be prepared to have these conversations with our doctors—when we do ultimately go see them—well before our doctors might be ready to have those conversations with us.
Proactive guidance and treatment can prevent the need to rely on prescription medication later on in life. So many of these chronic conditions—diabetes, heart disease, and so on—cause further damage in the body if they’ve persisted for extended periods of time, which makes early diagnosis, treatment, and course correction essential.
And, since we need to be there right along with you, we can even go together.