VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Charlie Hill and Everett Browning are proof that cancer doesn't always win.
"We are not just survivors; we are warriors," said Charlie Hill, President and Co-Founder of the Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum.
The two Hampton Roads men have been warriors since the day of their cancer diagnosis - Browning's in 2008 and Hill's in 2002.
"One of the things that I decided in 2002 was that if I'm able to survive this cancer, then I'm going to do something that will make a difference for every man who follows me," said Hill.
Both were told they had prostate cancer, which according to the American Cancer Society, is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, especially Black men. It's common enough that it has touched almost everyone in Browning's family.
"In the back of my mind, the wheels got to turning: 'Wow, Dad had it, I got it, my brothers got it. [So that means] my son and my grandson are on the high risk list as well,'" said Browning, who is also the Treasurer of the Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum.
Prostate cancer is hereditary, but not necessarily a death sentence as long as it's caught early enough. That's why the Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum is sounding the alarm and issuing a Code R.E.D. -- a Rally for Early Detection and a Rally to End Disparities.
"Prostate cancer is a problem in this country, and there isn't enough being done to address it," Hill said. "Look, we need to have rallies for both early detection and to end those things that caused disparities to grow. We want them to shrink."
Throughout the month of February, the public can take part in the free Code R.E.D. virtual summit. Every Monday, participants will hear from doctors, advocates and men like Hill and Browning who overcame the disease.
Browning said, "I'm [participating in the virtual summit] because I think a lot of people, a lot of men, are missing the boat for early detection. I'm just concerned for the family and friends that I have walking around with something that could be treated if they have the knowledge to go out and talk to a doctor."
Urologists recommend that men start getting tested around 45 years old. Hill said his organization advocates for men to get the PSA test, as well as the digital rectal exam. He said although there is a negative stigma associated with the digital rectal exam, foregoing it altogether can be deadly.
"That's a selfish mistake because if he is diagnosed, then he has had an impact on himself and his family [all because he] simply walked away from the digital rectal exam," said Hill.
The Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum said that PSA tests and digital rectal exams (DRE) are the most reliable way to detect prostate cancer in its early stages.
Advocates and urologists suggest that Black men get tested earlier than most. The American Cancer Society reports that one in seven Black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer compared to one in eight white men. It's these disparities that the Code R.E.D. forum aims to address.
"If you think about a man being diagnosed early enough to be successfully treated, then there was disparity numbers can be impacted," Hill said. "We are working to prove that early detection does make a huge difference."
According to the American Cancer Society, if caught early enough, prostate cancer has a five-year survival rate of nearly 100%.
Browning said that comes from checking in regularly with your doctor and asking questions within your own family, even if it feels uncomfortable.
"I'd like to encourage people to learn your family medical history. It's important."
During the Code R.E.D. Rally, participants and presenters will talk about survivorship, financial issues, treatment options and experiences, exercise and relaxation techniques, emotional toll, communication with significant others, fear of rejection, genetic counseling, support groups and medical insurance.
"We don't buy into this, 'This is a man's health problem.' No, this isn't a man's health problem - it's a family health problem," said Hill.