Chadwick Boseman was a movie actor who brilliantly portrayed baseball player Jackie Robinson (2013), singer James Brown (2014), and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (2017). In 2016, at age 40, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and never told the public about his serious diagnosis. Then, in spite of going through multiple surgeries and treatments including chemotherapies, he achieved his greatest success as the Black Panther in four films from 2016-2019. He died of colon cancer on August 28, 2020. His last film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, will be released next year.
Early Life and Career
Boseman was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, to a mother who was a nurse and a father who worked at a textile factory. These exceptional parents had three sons: the oldest, Derrick, is a preacher in South Carolina, the youngest, Kevin, is a dancer, and Chadwick became interested in writing and acting at a very early age.
In his junior year in high school, Boseman wrote and directed a play about the death of a classmate who was shot and killed. He went on to Howard University and took acting classes in London. After graduation from Howard, he moved to Brooklyn and worked as a drama instructor at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. In 2003, at age 27, he won his first television role, and wrote a play called Deep Azure that was nominated for a 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award. In 2008, at age 32, he moved to Los Angeles to try to succeed in movies. In 2013 he starred in 42, a biographical film about Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in major league baseball. The next year he played James Brown in Get On Up, and was so multi-talented that he sang his own songs and performed his own dances. In 2016, at age 40 he starred in Black Panther to become a household name. The fourth Black Panther film, Avengers: Endgame, became the highest-grossing film of all time.
Personal Life and Death
Boseman started dating singer Taylor Simone Ledward in 2015, they became engaged in October 2019, and married in 2020, but their marriage was not announced until after his death.
In 2016, at age 40, he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer, which means that the cancer had already spread from the innermost layer of the colon where it started, to beyond the outer layer of the colon wall, but not to other organs. Colon cancer is often curable if it can be treated before it spreads beyond the outer layers of the colon. Incredibly, he did some of his most brilliant movie acting and played the lead role in his most famous movies while he was suffering through multiple surgeries, chemotherapies and other treatments. He did not tell his public of his illness until very end. He died at his home with his family and wife by his bedside.
Colon Cancer Linked to Unhealthful Colon Bacteria
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer cause of death in the United States today (after lung cancer), while it is still rare in third world countries. The disease is associated with an overactive immune system, called inflammation, which is related to lifestyle factors that encourage cancer-causing bacteria to thrive in the colon (Gastroenterology, December 2018;155(6):1805–1815.e5).
Your colon has more than 100 trillion good and bad bacteria in it. Some of the bad bacteria increase colon cancer risk, while other good bacteria help to decrease risk. What you eat and other lifestyle factors determine which types of bacteria grow in your colon. High concentrations of a family of bacteria called Fusobacterium were found in most colon cancer tissues removed from more than 1000 people during cancer surgery (J of Biosciences and Medicines, 2018;6:31-69). Another study of almost 140,000 people showed that the typical Western diet, high in sugar and meat, is strongly associated with colon cancers in people whose colons harbor Fusobacterium nucleatum (JAMA Oncol, published online January 26, 2017). Furthermore, after just two weeks on a diet restricting red meat and adding lots of fruits, vegetables, beans and seeds, African-Americans had a significant reduction in specific colon bacteria and other risk factors for colon cancer (Nature Communications, April 28, 2015).
These bacteria appear to increase colon cancer risk by suppressing a person’s immune system that is supposed to kill cancer cells (World J Gastrointest Oncol, Mar 15, 2018;10(3):71–81). A diet rich in soluble fiber from plants helps to reduce the growth of Fusobacterium in your colon (JAMA Oncol, 2017 Jul 1;3(7):921-927). Lack of fruits and vegetables increases colon cancer risk by the following mechanism: You cannot absorb soluble fiber and resistant starch from plants in your upper intestinal tract, so they pass to your colon where specific bacteria ferment them to generate short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that help you to avoid overweight and dampen down inflammation, which helps to protect you from colon and other cancers (Proc Nutr Soc, 2015;74:23–36). See Colon Cancer May Be Caused by Bacteria.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Inflammation and Colon Cancer Risk
People who have been diagnosed with colon cancer that has spread through their bodies, and have changed to a healthier diet and exercise program, have a 42 percent lower risk of dying over the next seven years compared to those who did not change their lifestyles (JAMA Oncol, April 12, 2018).The American Cancer Society’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Survivors recommend:
• eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, beans and other seeds
• avoiding red and processed meats, sugar added foods, sugared drinks and fried foods
• maintaining a healthful weight
• avoiding smoking and alcohol
• keeping hydroxy vitamin D levels above 30 ng/mL
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com.