Legendary R&B Artist and Prostate Cancer Survivor Charlie Wilson is Making Awareness a Priority

Legendary R&B Artist and Prostate Cancer Survivor Charlie Wilson is Making Awareness a Priority Photo by Christian Lantry

by Jessica Webb

Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and producer Charlie Wilson began his career as a member of the GAP Band, a funk trio that churned out hits in the late 70s and 80s. Today, he continues to rack up the hits as a solo artist and has undoubtedly influenced some of today’s biggest names in R&B and hip-hop. That’s not to say Charlie hasn’t hit some rough patches in his career, but no matter the struggle, he has always managed to come out on top. And his battle with prostate cancer was no exception.

In 2008, in the midst of touring and recording, Charlie began noticing some lower back pain and frequent urination. But at the time, he simply attributed it to new routines. “I was doing a lot of exercise, so I thought I was pulling my lower back by lifting too heavy,” Charlie explains in a recent interview with Coping® magazine. “And I would drink a lot of water before bed, so I was up and down, going to the restroom a lot.” 

He would soon learn, however, that the issues he casually dismissed were actually signs of something more serious – prostate cancer.

Silence is deadly. We have to talk about it.

Charlie’s prostate cancer was discovered during an annual physical that his wife, Mahin, insisted he have each year. “We as men don’t like going to the doctor,” Charlie admits. “It was her insistence that made me go get these checkups. This time, she wanted me to get a PSA test and prostate exam, so I did.” 

charlie wilson
Photo by Nabil Elderkin

Because African-American men are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than are white men, Charlie’s doctor recommended he come back a month later for additional monitoring. A series of follow-up tests showed that his PSA level was rising. This prompted a biopsy of his prostate, which ultimately revealed that at age 55, Charlie had prostate cancer. 

“It was devastating news,” Charlie shares. “I thought my life and my career were over.” 

Fortunately, Charlie’s cancer was caught early, and his doctor had full confidence that treatment with brachytherapy, a procedure that delivers radiation only to a concentrated area of the prostate gland, would be successful. 

The procedure went well, and Charlie felt like he could have gone home the same day he was treated. “I could have woken up and left, but they wanted me to stay an extra day. I think so they could all get an autograph,” Charlie jokes. And aside from some initial soreness, he insists he felt back to normal nearly right away.

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Charlie hasn’t always spoken so openly about his cancer, but he changed his tune once he realized he could make a difference by talking to other men about this disease. “Spreading awareness and having conversations about prostate cancer is very important. We can help each other,” Charlie says. “Silence is deadly. We have to talk about it,” he stresses.

Passionate about raising awareness, Charlie initially teamed up with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, but he was looking for “a bigger stage,” a way to spread awareness to an even larger audience. So earlier this year, he joined with Janssen Biotech, Inc. on Making Awareness a Priority: Putting Prostate Cancer on the M.A.P., a program designed to raise awareness among African-American men and their families about prostate cancer and its disproportionate impact on the African-American community. The program has given Charlie the opportunity to share his story and encourage other men to take control of their health. 

“Make sure you have an annual checkup,” Charlie urges. “Don’t be ashamed of the exam; it’s senseless to die of shame.”

Charlie is now working on recording new music, spreading prostate cancer awareness, and loving his wife, who stands by him during good times and bad. Visit Charlie at CharlieWilsonMusic.com.

Learn more about Making Awareness a Priority at MyProstateCancerRoadMap.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2012.