Joe Greene – “Colon Cancer Health Ambassador”
Despite the lingering grogginess of anesthesia, Joe Greene remembers his exact words after learning he had cancer. He says, “I was still waking up after the colonoscopy when the Doctor came in. He told me they’d seen cancer during my screening and I said, ‘Well, damn! What’s the next steps, Doc? I’ve got kids!’ ”
Joe knew he didn’t want to a waste any time. It has now been 11 months since Joe underwent emergency surgery. A tennis ball-size tumor was removed and his cancer was diagnosed as Stage 3. Since then, Joe says he’s spent a lot of time experiencing things he’d never imagined (including 12 rounds of chemo) all the while, feeling like this is all part of a bigger plan for his life. Professionally, Joe has spent decades as an event organizer and promoter, as well as passionately serving his community in Asheville, often as a youth mentor with My Daddy Taught Me That. Joe shares, “I feel like everything I’ve done in my life to this point – from the shows to my community work, to all the ways I’ve met people and been on stages across North Carolina… people know my name and that it stands for something. Everything led to this, and I believe it’s so I can make a difference.”
“My mission now,” Joe continues, “is being the Black Ambassador and Spokesman for people to get colonoscopies at the age of 40. Insurance used to cover colonoscopies at 50, and now it’s 45. I want to lower that number to 40. I was diagnosed at 40. If I waited till 45, well, I wouldn’t have made it. My cancer was Stage 3 and there’s only 4 stages in this game, so it was very serious.” Joe says he knows he’s been “lucky” in his cancer journey, not just because he has loving friends and family, but because his mom, Mrs. Yvette Jives, is a former nurse and a fellow cancer survivor turned advocate. Mrs. Jives is the founder of HERS (Health Education Resource Services). Along with her education and decades working in the medical field, Mrs. Jives had personal experience assisting uninsured clients with accessing life-saving resources through organizations like Project Access. Joe says, “I didn’t have insurance and it was during Covid, so there were lots of barriers. Thankfully, my mom had worked with Project Access and she knew where to go and she had some insight. If I did not have the mom that I do, I would probably have died of this.”
Joe says he knows how long it can take to influence change in the medical and insurance industries and he isn’t deterred. While earlier, affordable colonoscopy testing is one of his long term goals, Joe believes there is a lot we as individuals can do in the meantime. “What I tell anyone who’s listening, and especially my Black brothers, is ESSL – Early Screening Saves Lives. If you see any of the signs of colon cancer… well first, you have to know the signs, so I want to help get people educated… no one else can do this for you, you know your body best.” According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer disproportionately affects Black Americans, where the rates are the highest of any racial/ethnic group in the US. African Americans are about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40% more likely to die from it than other groups. And while rates of colorectal cancer have been falling in older age groups in recent years, they’ve been rising among younger people.
Financially, emotionally, physically… Joe says no part of your life goes untouched when you’re battling cancer. He wants to help people on their journey and hopefully prevent many, many others from having to walk the path at all. “I now tell people the real deal about colonoscopies, especially men, who sometimes have weird feelings about it. The whole thing, after you do the prep, is really quite simple. You go to sleep, wake up and it’s over,” he says. With a large following on social media, Joe says he’s heard from at least 20 people who’ve said they got tested because of his experience and inspiration. He reflects, “When this whole thing started, I had to look up the word ‘colonoscopy’ to make sure I was spelling it right! I’ve learned so much and I’m still healing. My surgery wasn’t even a year ago. I’m committed to lowering that testing age and to changing the narrative. I’m going to share insight from a Black man who has been through it to help change some of the thoughts and fears that are out there, and to improve health outcomes for other Black men – or anyone willing to learn.”
Click HERE to watch a recent News interview with Joe Greene.