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Boris Kodjoe

Source: Depend / Depend

Black men diagnosed with prostate cancer are nearly 2.5 times more likely to die from the disease than their white counterparts, and silence may be a key reason why. Boris Kodjoe grew up with a Black father who never imparted the importance of a colonoscopy on him, and the 48-year-old’s male friends over the age of 45 hardly touch the subject.

The Real Husbands of Hollywood actor took it upon himself to help shift the paradigm by partnering with Depends and the Prostate Cancer Foundation for the Stand Strong for Men’s Health™ program, an initiative aimed to fight to destigmatize male incontinence, one of the leading side-effects for prostate cancer survivors and one of the most common cancers among men.

Speaking with CassiusLife, Kodjoe discussed losing a close friend and his father to cancer, why he partnered with Depends and the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and how Chadwick Boseman’s battle with colon cancer shook him and everyone.

Cassius: How did your partnership with Depends come to be?

Boris Kodjoe: We started talking a few months [before November 2021]. The past two years have been rough on everybody, and mental health and spiritual health are huge topics. Depends partnered with the Prostate Cancer Foundation and me to remove some of the stigma attached to talking about prostate cancer, which has racial disparities that really concern me. One in eight men is diagnosed with prostate cancer. One in four Black men is diagnosed. The numbers are staggering. The reasons are there is a lack of access to quality health care. And there’s a lack of dialogue. We don’t open up and talk about our issues as Black men. We don’t want to be perceived as weak, so we don’t talk about that stuff. We need to talk about colonoscopies. We need to talk about prostate cancer to have periodic check-ups and early detection. Depends is donating $350,000 to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

What is your personal connection to this issue?

Boris Kodjoe: One of my best friends and a mentor battled with it years ago and he beat it. Another really close friend of mine passed three months ago. It’s been in my life for a long time and it’s awoken me to the importance of early detection. Dialogue is the first step. Finding appropriate care to get your check-ups is key. That’s why I wanted to partner with Depends and the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

My dad doesn’t speak about his health that often. How did the men in your life discuss health with you growing up in the ‘80s?

Boris Kodjoe: My mother was really in charge of that dialogue. She made sure we didn’t miss a dentist appointment and got our check-ups done. She made sure we ate right and didn’t touch soda. I had to do a bunch of extra things because I had a mineral deficiency in my bones. I had to take calcium on a daily basis. To be honest, my father wasn’t a great role model in that respect. He didn’t take care of himself past 40. He was a great athlete and a medical doctor but didn’t take care of himself as he should’ve. He was battling mental health issues and ended up battling physical health issues. He died of cancer, as well. It hits home and I want to do things differently.

If Boris now can talk to Boris 20 years ago, what advice would he give?

Boris Kodjoe: If I talk to myself 20 years ago, I’d just remind him to be diligent and mindful of his health. In the past few years, I’ve been doubling down because of what we’ve experienced globally with the pandemic and the social injustice pandemic. There have been a lot of stress on all of us. A lot of people have suffered tremendously these last few years. As they say on planes, before you help anyone else, put the oxygen mask on yourself. As Black men, we need to focus on that and take care of ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves and support each other.

How have you been advocating for this in your personal life?

Boris Kodjoe: I’ve been asking my friends, ‘Who got a colonoscopy?’ It’s frightening a lot of my friends over 45 have not touched the subject. These are guys in positions to easily do it. One of my good friends, Anthony Anderson, got one and posted about it or something. He was one of the few. I know a lot of guys who haven’t gone yet and I encourage them to do so. I’m the guy who holds the phone six feet away now because I can’t see anymore (laughs). When you get over you have to take care of yourself.

Your family has experienced your own medical issues. How have you been trying to change the conversation Black men have about health with your son?

Boris Kodjoe: Nicolas turned 15 recently and he’s my height. He’s an athlete, so he’s very conscious about his physical health. I try to teach him routine. I try to teach him to come up with a routine that includes mindfulness in the form of morning prayer or meditation of somesorts, as well as taking care of his physical health. Calorie intake is important. He needs a lot of energy to do what he does, so he needs to eat the right stuff a lot. He spends a lot of time in recovery by stretching, ice baths, and physical therapy in order to prevent injuries.

Boris Kodjoe: How did the death of Chadwick Boseman change the conversation around cancer in Hollywood circles?

I think Chadwick’s death shook all of us. He was an iconic figure. It goes beyond Black Panther. He was such a beautiful, intelligent, outspoken advocate for the culture. He was somebody who insisted on creating multifaceted and multidimensional representations. It was a shock to the system. It drove the point home that you never know and life is fragile. We have to do what we can to take care of our health.