I was always taught that during Black History Month there are two types of history: the one you read about in the history books and the one that you make for yourself.
I honor and give reverence to the great leaders, personalities and historical figures and events that shaped the history of African Americans in the United States. However, let me share a moment in time that is history in the making.
I have been blessed and honored to be part of The Empowerment Network, an organization that has become history makers in the prostate cancer community of greater St. Louis. From its inception in 2008, we started the first nationally acclaimed, community-based prostate cancer support group in the St. Louis community, followed by the establishment of the first community Cancer Informational and Educational Center.
Since then, hundreds of men’s lives have been saved through early testing. We’ve connected survivors to urologists and other medical professionals, as well as giving out countless treatment referrals, educational sessions, resources and support. Our prayer teams and speaker’s bureau are actively in the community.
We are history makers. But history always has a beginning. My history with The Empowerment Network is very personal, painful and all so real. It started in 2007 when my doctor gave me two years to live following discovery that I had prostate cancer, but God gave me new life.
On the day of my surgery on March 6, 2007, I asked God to heal my body, restore my health and to give me a second chance. I promised God that if he would do that for me, I would spend the rest of my life in service to prostate cancer survivors.
In that promise, in that moment in time, The Empowerment Network was birthed. On March 6, I’ll celebrate 13 years of being cancer free. God has kept his promise; I’m endeavoring every day to keep mine.
Yes, I’m still surviving a disease that invaded my body but not my mind nor my spirit. So, I am holding fast to my dreams that I can help change the dynamic of this disease with a promise rooted in my faith and in my passion.
The Empowerment Network is part of God’s master plan to change the conversation about this disease among men in St. Louis. Men are now talking about this disease with more comfort and more ease.
I am an advocate and a servant to cancer victims. My faith walk is helping to shatter the silence of this disease and the urban myths that surround it.
Our impact is significant. Our records tell our story. We have nearly 600 survivors in our database. We’ve counseled more than 4,700. More than 1,400 men have been tested. We’ve had over 1,300 support group attendees. We’ve done about 325 outreach events and 120 church tours. We’ve had more than 160 physician referrals to our organization. And at least 144 men had positive test results, meaning treatment was needed.
Never would I have expected my new life to touch the lives of so many men, new friends and survivors, who are in my life to help me complete this journey.
A cancer journey can sometimes lead many survivors to frustration and hopelessness. I make it a point to visit men in hospitals suffering from the disease. I remember one patient I visited who thanked me for the support of the organization which gave him the strength to keep fighting. The man died the next morning. I cried.
I see a new joy emerging from this army of prostate cancer survivors. St. Louis has a voice and a vessel to spread the message of hope that men can survive prostate cancer. The behavior of men is rapidly changing when confronted with a prostate cancer diagnosis and the new awareness about getting tested.
During a recent support group meeting, a survivor stood up and openly talked about the impact of the disease in his life. The pain in his voice echoed the hurt in his body from dealing with the disheartening side effects of post-radiation treatment. My brother in the fight boldly shared the personal details about his male bodily functions to about 50 other men in the room that day.
The survivors I saw in that room that day are some of the many men that are battling prostate cancer. I saw the faces of survivors who need my help and intervention from The Empowerment Network, which is emerging as the new ambassador for prostate awareness. Yet, I hold fast that I must do more to help decrease the mortality rate in men who battle this disease. There are still too many fatherless children and wives raising those children alone. There are still too many men contemplating suicide after receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis. They have yet to see or know their true greatness. I attend far too many funerals.
I believe that true greatness is a true extension of one’s self fighting the cancer that has invaded one’s body. Nelson Mandela said it best: “When individuals rise above their circumstances and use problems to push them to become more, they grasp greatness.” The greatness that survivors possess is the stories that they carry into the community to help build hope, inspiration and encouragement.
I am filled with happiness and joy to live the new life God has given me.
Mellve Shahid Sr. is a prostate cancer survivor and president and founder of The Empowerment Network, a prostate cancer advocacy organization.