By Mary L. Datcher
Special to the NNPA from The Windy City Word
CHICAGO (NNPA) – When you hear the name Twone Gabz, many of us are not familiar with the name unless we are true fans of Hip Hop and have followed the history of the Chicago Rap music scene. Known to family and friends as Antwone Muhammad, he’s been in the music business for almost 15 years, featured on projects produced by Grammy award producer, No I.D., Kanye West, Terry Hunter, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Erick Sermon and collaborations with Chicago artists; Mikkey Halsted, GLC, Keith Murray and Rhymefest among others.
One day when a trip to the emergency room suddenly changed the entire scope of his world when several tests revealed, he had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Taking a break from the music business to work in healthcare management for the past five years, Antwone had been experiencing some fluid leakage from his left nipple. The leakage had occurred off and on for a couple of years until his visit to the emergency room and the comfort of finally having health insurance. Antwone explains his first ordeal, “My doctor wasn’t due to check on me for awhile and heard my voice in the hallway. She asked to check on my blood level. When she did, she noticed my hemoglobin had dropped to a six when it was supposed to be a 14. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t passed out or even died standing there, so they issued an emergency blood transfusion.”
According to breastcancer.org, a study concluded that African American men were less likely than white men to be referred to an oncologist or get chemotherapy for breast cancer, which is highly due to many not having healthcare.
Male breast cancer is a rare condition, accounting for only about 1% of all breast cancers (www.medicinenet.com) Antwone challenges this statistic, “They say it affects 1% of men, but those numbers are skewed because they are being updated based on census surveys. So, who’s really inviting a stranger into their house? Does the stranger ask you, “Does anybody in this household have cancer? My oncologist believes it to be like 7%-10% of men now.”
Although, a history of breast cancer in his family with his Aunt passing from leukemia and recently his grandmother being diagnosed within the same month as himself, it has made him more conscious of the illness.
A husband and father of two children; a two-year old daughter and 13-year old son, the ordeal has turned his fight for survival into a mission of awareness. “Maybe, we could have tried this or that treatment but now they’re gone…it’s too late. So, I felt like if there’s anyone who can me help me or give me any advice, I’m going to take to everybody because you never know where your angels are.”
Antwone neither realized that worrying about his illness brought on stress and depression and it wasn’t healthy nor healing so he flipped his experience around by sharing it openly on social media,”Some people really confide and open up. A young lady was sharing with us during a Q & A I conducted online and she was six months pregnant; going through chemo and asking for advice on what type of dietary practices should she have? I couldn’t give her that kind of advice because every person is different. But it’s been great just to see people and how they’ve taken to it.”
Through the power of social media and online engagement, his open discussion has lead to people whose sending him messages, admitting that they too are getting mammograms and going for doctor check-ups.
In addition to talking with people on facebook and twitter, he has been documenting the process by filming his doctor visits in addition to ending his 5-year hiatus from the business was ended through penning new lyrics for the music CD “The Tumor”.
The saying, ‘Music soothes the savage beast’ is a perfect fight with cancer being the ‘beast’ and ‘music’ soothing the process of survival in Antwone’s life. He explains his return to the studio in creating his latest musical project, “It’s been better than the actual treatment. As an artist, we can say certain things and put it in the words of a song, but when it comes to communicating with people it’s like the hardest thing for us.”
He continues, “When we make songs we become this person that we’re really not because we’re trying to seek acceptance from a lot of people. At some point, my music has to be therapeutic for me.”
The new project is a living testimony of Antwone’s journey through photos, video footage and his speaking engagements. During a routine visit to his dentist, he hadn’t realized how his online testimony and postings was being followed until his dentist admitted that she followed him as well. That visit led to an introduction by his dentist to her sister who works for the American Cancer Society where he has been enlisted to speak to groups of cancer patients, survivors and new followers about his experience.
With speaking engagements at Rush Hospital, University of Chicago, recently performing at a Chicago Sky Game as well as traveling to Mississippi in October on behalf of the American Cancer Society collaboration, he elaborates, “They’re having a problem engaging people from ages 20-35, particularly men to have these conversations about health and preventative health so they see the benefit of utilizing someone like me. Using Hip Hop enables us to reach that demographic, so I committed to help them.”
One of his missions is to bring awareness to the African American community, particularly the Roseland community located on the far Southside of Chicago. “There’s more cancer in Roseland than anywhere in Chicago and if you look at Roseland Community Hospital, no one goes there. All of the factories, the dump sites, the dirty roads compelled me to discuss why the area has the highest cancer rate.” Inspired by what is going on in the community, Antwone is working with Roseland Community Hospital and releasing the first music video for the song, “Getting Through It”.
The preventative care that is lacking in the African American communities around the country has brought a different kind of perspective from a young African American male with an diagnosis that isn’t considered a ‘male’ illness, yet it is growing in numbers. Again, the influence of Hip Hop music touches the lives of many and the transformation from rap artist Twone Gabz to preventative health advocate, Antwone Muhammad has become a champion of awareness for male breast cancer.
Understanding his influence, he speaks out, “At one time, Twone Gabz could never ask Common or anybody to get on one of my songs but going through this and deciding that I don’t want to deal with end of the business anymore. So, now as Antwone Muhammad, I could get these people on a song without having to ask them. The opportunities kind of came because my whole focus is just helping people…I don’t really care about what I’m going to get from it.”
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