It was in the year 2000 when the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Monroe, then-pastor of the Metropolitan AME Zion Church, Hartford, CT noticed the need for more frequent bathroom breaks. Moreover, he realized that it was important to tell his doctor as soon as possible. He went for a physical and a prostate cancer screening which showed that his PSA count was 12.8. His doctor referred him to an urologist who ordered a prostate biopsy. The tissue was positive for cancer.
As a pastor, it was always important to help others with their faith development as he served congregations across the United States and the Bahama Islands. This time, he knew he would need to help employ the faith he had in himself, the faith he had in the doctors and the faith he had in God. “I wasn’t afraid, I just thought, I’m going to get rid of this! God has a way of bringing us through,” he said.
“It took a few days for me to tell my wife,” said the bishop. She didn’t process the implications of his sickness until they visited the urologist together and went over the treatment options. Because he acted quickly, Dr. Monroe’s cancer was caught early and surgery could mean complete recovery. For him, the choice was clear. “I didn’t want the disease in my body. I said, just take it out!” His wife agreed, saying, “I want you alive.” The procedure went well, leaving no visible scars. Following the surgery, he underwent radiation and hormonal treatment for several weeks.
Bishop Monroe learned during his treatments that African American men have a greater risk of developing prostate cancer and that they often have more aggressive diseases and are known to experience worse outcomes. So, soon after surgery, he shared his experience with his congregation. “It was so important to convey this message that we need to take care of ourselves as well as each other, and that it is okay to talk about it,” he said.
Bishop Monroe led several meetings with the men in his congregation, advocating for annual physicals and routine prostate cancer screenings, reminding them that many men have no symptoms. He explained the steps and the process, and they discussed questions and concerns as a group. “You don’t want to wait. Do all these things right away so you can catch it early and take care of it,” said the bishop. “I wanted all the men to embrace the need to be examined.”
Humbled and inspired, Dr. Monroe moved forward with his life, being elected a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 2004. He has served West Africa (Ghana, Liberia, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire); Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia and now Eastern North Carolina as the Presiding Bishop. After nearly (20) twenty years of being cancer free, Bishop Monroe wrote his memoir in a book entitled, “Adventures of Uncertainty, Making the Impossible Possible with God'' (2018), which details his challenges, experiences, and triumphs, from the Carolinas to Connecticut, to West Africa and back again, including his journey through prostate cancer and beyond.
“Once I told my story, so many people started to call and come by to talk. When one speaks out, others reach out, sometimes because they want to help, and sometimes because they need help themselves.” Unfortunately, several people are afraid to get tested or they have already been diagnosed with a disease. “Time and time again, I have encouraged people not to be afraid, because I believe they will be able to overcome the challenge.”