LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Many in the nation were devastated over the weekend to receive the unexpected news that actor Chadwick Boseman had passed away from colon cancer.
Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster "Black Panther" filled social media with bittersweet cries of "Wakanda Forever," showing love and respect for the actor who brought the titular character to life. But that wasn't his only role. Boseman portrayed real-life heroes too: men like Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall.
Fans had no warning of the actor's private struggle with colon cancer, as he and his family kept the battle hidden from public view. Now the actor's death is shedding light on the silent killer.
"That's the scary part," said Dr. Russ Farmer, assistant professor of colon and rectal surgery at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. "Young people are getting colorectal cancer and dying from it. And we don't have an answer why."
The tweet announcing Boseman's death shook the nation -- and woke the world up to the dangers of colon cancer.
"It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman," it read. "Chadwick was diagnosed with state III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV. A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy. It was the honor of his career to bring King T'Challa to life in Black Panther. He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side. The family thanks you for your love and prayers, and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time."
Twitter would later announce that that tweet had received more likes than any other in the social media giant's history.
It also highlighted the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. among men and women combined. Colon cancer kills more than 50,000 people each year, with 150,000 new cases expected in 2020 alone experts say.
Doctors are warning young people that this is not a disease that only targets the elderly.
"We are currently facing an epidemic of young people with colorectal cancer that is presenting later and later," Dr. Farmer said.
Studies show death from the disease is on the rise for people under 55.
Boseman's passing at age 43 highlights another concern, that colorectal cancer kills Black people at a much higher rate.
Still, doctors say 60 percent of those deaths could be prevented by screening.
"The biggest problem that we see is that people are getting diagnosed late because the either don't speak to their physician, or were to afraid to speak to their physician about something that they noticed," Farmer said.
It's important to know the signs. Colorectal cancer presents itself as blood in the stool, persistent abdominal pain and weight loss. Advances in colon cancer screening now mean that a colonoscopy is not the only method: it can now be done via a stool sample collected at home.
Renee Lewis is one patient who says she wishes she found out sooner.
"They told me it had been growing several years," she said.
The mother of three was first diagnosed with colon cancer at age 44. Five years later after surgery, chemo and radiation, she survived.
"I feel like if I had been screened at 40, I might not have had it," Lewis said.
Many medical professionals echo the calls for earlier screening covered by insurance, with some hoping Boseman's passing advances the cause, adding one more iconic role: that of an awareness ambassador for the disease that took his life.
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