Linford Christie: "Beating prostate cancer is a marathon, not a sprint"
As the IAAF World Championships kicks off in London this weekend, legendary sprinter Linford Christie – one of the famous faces fronting our Stronger Knowing More campaign – tells us about his career-defining moment 25 years ago when he clinched Olympic gold, and how he's helping to raise awareness of black men's increased risk of prostate cancer.
This summer marks 25 years since one of the greatest moments of my career: winning Olympic gold in Barcelona. It often feels like the last 25 years have flown by as quickly as the 9.96 seconds it took to run the race!
A quarter of a century on, and I’ve recently turned 57. In my mind I don’t feel any different to how I felt on that day in 1992. I still feel in good shape. And to this day, I spend more time at the track than I do in my own house. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve become much more mindful of the potential threats to my health than I ever was back then.
I’ve recently started working with the men’s health charity, Prostate Cancer UK, and have learned some startling statics. As a black man over 50, my risk of prostate cancer is double that of a white man the same age. One in four black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime – the equivalent of one member of a 4x4 relay squad. The risk is twice the one-in-eight risk faced by white men.
The prostate is an invisible gland; you can’t see it, you can’t feel it. In fact, 17% of men don’t even know they have a prostate.
If I’m being honest, until lately, I was one of the many thousands of men who knew next to nothing about the vital, walnut sized, reproductive gland inside me
More than 11,000 men die from prostate cancer every year in the UK. But over the next 10 years, Prostate Cancer UK is ramping up its investment in research and has set a goal to transform the disease into one that the next generation will not fear.
Despite the odds being stacked against black men, just saying the word ‘prostate’ within many black communities remains a massive taboo subject. Still, in 2017, the disease is simply not spoken about – and if it is, it’s in a ‘hush hush, don’t tell anyone’-type of way. How can it be that something that affects so many black fathers, uncles, sons, and friends is continually swept under the carpet and ignored?
My health has always been important to me. When I was in the prime of my career, it was the most important thing. I obsessed over my diet and keeping myself in shape. I had to. Other than a pair of running spikes my physical and mental fitness was all I had – my career depended on it.
Unbeatable; indestructible; that’s what I wanted to be and I believed I was
As I’ve grown older, my diet is still vital. But I’ve come to realise that no matter how well I eat or how fit I am, I am not indestructible. Nobody is. But there are defence measures I can take and arming myself with knowledge is by far the most important.
If prostate cancer is caught early, more often than not it can be successfully treated. The problem lies in the fact that when it’s in its early stages, the disease is just as invisible as the gland itself. It has no symptoms. This is why awareness of the potential threat, talking to the doctor and spreading the word amongst men is so important: it saves lives.
I’m currently fronting Prostate Cancer UK’s campaign, Stronger Knowing More, to get black men facing up to their risk of prostate cancer and taking action. If you’re a black man, you’re not only more likely to get prostate cancer, you’re more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age. This challenge is a marathon, not a sprint and if we’re going to beat it, we need to break down the taboos and start talking. It’s only by doing this that we can put a stop to the number of men who die from the disease every year.
To find out more about a black man's increased risk of prostate cancer, visit strongerknowingmore.org