Walter Shearin figures he has about 30 good reasons that younger black men should get regular checkups and talk with their doctor about prostate cancer: his friends, family and customers who have contracted the disease.
Using barbershops as channels for reaching black men with health information is a proven public health technique, one funded by government grants and charities in several parts of the country. Shearin, though, has his own informal, pro bono program at Walt’s Diversity Barber Shop in Becker Village Mall near Interstate 95.
The 71-year-old Vietnam veteran often proselytizes about prostate cancer while his customers are captive in the chair.
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“I talk with them all the time, and I tell them, and some of them listen, some of them don’t,” he said. “I had one friend that I talked to about it, and he didn’t do it, he just continued to take the pill (for an enlarged prostate), and the cancer just jumped from his prostate to his body, and he died of it.”
He uses himself as the living proof that catching prostate cancer early can help. In 2009, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease and was treated for it.
Among the men he knows who developed prostate cancer are a former co-worker who died, a high school classmate, a neighbor, his uncle and a brother.
That means half of the four Shearin brothers had an aggressive case of prostate cancer. And that’s almost normal in his part of the state, Shearin said.
“That seems pretty common,” he said. “It’s everybody.”