Patient Care

‘We All Have That Power’: Willie Lightfoot Gets Screened for Colorectal Cancer, Encourages Others

Oct. 27, 2021

Rochester City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot knows first hand the devastation cancer can cause. His father died from stomach cancer and as a pastor, he’s counseled many after a cancer diagnosis.

When he learned he was eligible for colorectal cancer screening at age 45 – a procedure that could help him potentially have more time with his family – he decided to get screened.

“For me, that encouraged me to want to go and get this type of test, and any other preventive cancer type screening, because of my family history,” he says.
 
But that doesn’t mean he came to the decision without any hesitations.
 
“Going into that, there’s a fear. Am I going to get bad news? And I know a lot of people, that’s why they don’t want to do these types of screenings,” he says. “Being someone who’s never been under anesthesia, never spent a night in a hospital, never had something like this done before, those were extreme challenges and barriers that I had to overcome personally.”

In September, Lightfoot had his first screening colonoscopy, during which gastroenterologist Danielle Marino, M.D., removed three polyps. Tests showed the polyps were not pre-cancerous, and Lightfoot doesn’t need another screening colonoscopy for 10 years, as long as his family history remains the same.

“I actually was preventive and proactive in my healthcare,” he says, “and we all have that power.”

Now, in his roles as pastor, barbershop owner, city leader and community member, he is spreading the word.

“My job then is to go and say ‘I was able to do it and was successful at it. You can, too,’” he says. “You can take the reins, get the wheel and drive your healthcare when it comes to this, and be preventive and if there’s something there, you can take control to have that removed. And that’s empowering.”

Colon cancer screening is particularly important for Black men. In Monroe County, there are 22.5 colorectal cancer deaths per 100,000 Black men compared to 15.9 colorectal cancer deaths per 100,000 for white men.

To try to address the disparity, Marino’s team has hired nurse navigators that can help patients with issues like transportation upon making an appointment. They’ve gone in to the community to share factual, potentially life-saving information in communities of color. They are also working with Wilmot’s Community Outreach and Engagement Office, which aims to spread cancer prevention messaging of all types, including information on healthy living and other available cancer screenings.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends everyone age 45 and older get screened for colon cancer. Those who have a family history of colorectal cancer or who have a health history of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease may be at higher risk of cancer and need to get screened sooner.

“Find a primary care doctor if you can, talk to them about this, open the conversation and follow through on it,” Marino says. “Because you have to get screened. There’s no reason people have to be dying of a preventable cancer.”

Those needing a primary care provider can find one using UR Medicine’s primary care provider search tool or by asking their insurance provider to make a primary care doctor suggestion within network. Those who don’t have insurance or who are underinsured may reach out to Cancer Services Program of the Finger Lakes at 1-877-803-8070 for assistance with getting screened.  

Lightfoot says he would do anything to have even just one more day with his father. While he cannot change that, he hopes sharing his story and encouraging more people to get cancer screenings they will help other families have more time with the people they love.

“To get a clean bill of health is empowering. It empowers you to want other people to feel that same way,” he says. “I want other people to get that same news or I want other people to know so that they’re able to deal with this, to get a diagnosis early so you don’t have to die from this.”