CINCINNATI — Hamilton County Sheriff's Deputy Marcus Brooks has been disease-free for more than a decade after a fight with prostate cancer, and he's spent that time trying to make sure others who might come down with the potentially deadly disease have the same chance for survival he had.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has him working even harder to remind his fellow deputies of the importance of cancer screenings, as more and more have foregone them due to fear of catching the virus from a hospital or doctor's office.
"I'm afraid we're going to lose a lot of people," Brooks told WCPO.
Dr. Gary Kirsh is president of the Cincinnati-based Urology Group. He said research indicated a steep drop in cancer screenings, visits, therapies and surgeries -- between 56 and 79% -- last April.
The frequency of cancer appointments and procedures has picked back up some since then, but the effects could be long-lasting, Kirsh said.
"We're having a bad cancer year in terms of people getting checked," Kirsh said.
When it comes to prostate cancer, Black men are at particular risk of dying from the disease if it's not detected early.
"This COVID is a bit of a double-whammy in particular in prostate cancer and the African American community," Kirsh said. "In a few years, we're going to have people showing up with cancer at a more advanced stage than they otherwise would have needed to."
It's caused Kirsh to email or text his patients the same message, over and over again: "Don't put off your health. We're available for in-person or telehealth appointments."
Brooks said he tries to remind others that a screening is worth the risk.
"Black men say, 'Hey... I gotta die of something,' you know, which is sad, which is selfish," he said. "But I'm letting them know, 'Hey, you have kids; you have grandkids. Don't you want to live for them?'"
After a screening at his church caught his cancer early 11 years ago, Brooks now spends his time between shifts at the Hamilton County Justice Center as an ambassador and advocate for cancer screenings, treatments and research.