As Men’s Health Week stresses the importance of regular medical screenings and checkups, TODAY’s Craig Melvin is sharing his own message for anyone who might be thinking about avoiding or cancelling their regular medical care due to COVID-19.
Melvin has been a staunch advocate for men’s health awareness since his brother, Lawrence Meadows, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2017. Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the country, excluding skin cancers, and the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women.
“In the midst of this pandemic, routine cancer screenings plunged,” Melvin said. “Part of it is, Americans were encouraged to delay routine mammograms and colonoscopies and people haven’t rescheduled. … Colon cancer, breast cancer … not getting a cancer screening because you’re afraid of COVID-19, unless you have underlying health conditions or unless you’re in that age range, it doesn’t make much sense at this point to cut off your nose to spite your face.”
The TODAY news anchor added that in pre-coronavirus times, people were already reluctant to undergo mildly unpleasant but important screenings.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot to talk someone out of going for a colonoscopy in the first place,” he said. “What we don’t want is to give people a new reason or a new excuse to not get that colonoscopy.”
“A lot of guys just forgo the routine checkups and we don’t always listen to our bodies or explain away something that’s the symptom of something larger,” he continued.
He said that if you’re someone who is thinking about avoiding or procrastinating standard medical care, whether due to COVID-19 or other reasons, think about the others in your life who might be affected.
“Think about your loved ones,” Melvin said. “I’ve got two small kids and a wife. It’s important that I stay healthy for them.”
Also of concern to Melvin is the increasing rise of colorectal cancers in young people under the age of 50. He urged that all people, regardless of age or perceived risk, get screened as soon as possible if they think there is anything amiss.
“Over the past few years especially, it’s been on the rise considerably (in people under the age of 50),” Melvin said. “And what’s troubling is scientists, doctors, researchers, they don’t know why. Why are they contracting colon cancer at an earlier age? Why are more people getting colon cancer, and the colon cancer that, by the time it’s diagnosed, it’s very aggressive?”
He added that since many diseases can be treated if caught early enough, staying on top of your health now can lead to less issues in the future.
“Not a lot of people realize that a lot of ailments and disease, if caught early enough, are easily treatable,” he continued. “When we ignore our bodies for an extended period of time and we let symptoms linger, that’s when bad things happen.”
Related: March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
Melvin has found that one of the best ways to get men to start taking their health more seriously is to make it a more standard part of regular conversations.
“The most effective (way of communicating), and I’ve maintained this from the beginning, is just guys talking to each other,” he said. “I know it sounds maybe a little weird, or trite, but just having conversations. I do this with buddies of mine now!”
Melvin suggests talking about topics like family history, since people may not be aware of things that happened to their parents, grandparents, and other relatives.
“People don’t know. We didn’t know that we had a family history until my brother got disanogsed and we started asking questions,” Melvin said. “All of a sudden it was like ‘Oh, yeah, your grandma did have colon cancer.’ It didn’t kill her, but all of a sudden my father remembered … All of a sudden, you become aware of your family history.”
Melvin said the real key to these discussions is starting “conversations that lead to action.”
“When you have these conversations, you’re planting seeds,” he said. “All of a sudden, it’s like ‘You know what, that doesn’t feel right. That lump wasn’t there. That mole wasn’t there. Maybe I should go get that checked. It’s about having the conversations that lead to action.”