M. Terry/SFVS David Ford says regular examinations and early diagnosis are keys to beating cancer.

At first impression, David Ford — who stands 6-feet 3-inches tall and weighs 235 pounds — is an imposing figure, even at age 63. Any trepidation upon meeting him, however, dissolves due to his disarming smile, calm nature and the Midwestern manners he learned growing up in Ohio.

It’s a personality that serves Ford well as a Government Relations Manager in Local Public Affairs for Southern California Edison, representing the electric utility throughout Los Angeles County.

And it also helped Ford to survive separate attacks of cancer in his life: colon cancer in 2015, and prostate cancer in 2018.

Ford, who resides in West Hills, says he’s fortunate that both diseases were discovered early enough and, despite the surgery and radiation treatment he had to undergo, there was a realistic chance of survival.

Getting diagnosed early and being treated early is a message he regularly shares. Because Ford believes too many people of color — and African Americans in particular — must take more control in taking care of themselves.

Getting a platform to get that message out is a major reason why he joined the California chapter board of the American Cancer Society in 2018.

“I don’t think you can really give people a passionate testimonial about making a change (for taking better care of yourself) unless you yourself have been impacted by what’s driving you to call for that change,”  Ford said.

The message includes getting regular examinations by healthcare professionals, including blood work and colonoscopies. Ford is concerned about the anxiety Black men often express about getting those exams. 

“We have this fear of someone touching our [private areas] and anything going wrong with that, in addition to other related things. And we’re allowing ourselves to go undiagnosed. And then we die because of a lack of screenings and doing regular checkups.”

Discovering Cancer the First Time

In 2015, Ford was driving to his Rosemead office in the morning when his stomach became very upset. He had to stop twice and find a bathroom. He thought he was experiencing a bad case of diarrhea.

“I just thought I had eaten something the night before that [didn’t agree with him]. I turned around and went back home,” Ford said.

What Ford didn’t know at the time was he was also losing blood. After he got home to lay down and rest, when he tried to get up from the bed, he fainted.

When he finally did stand back up he thought to himself, “This is strange.” So he went to an emergency room.

The doctors ran a variety of tests. When they came back with the results, Ford was told the problem was not food poisoning, but something else. He was admitted to the hospital, and underwent a colonoscopy the next day. Doctors discovered a rupture and tumors in his intestines; they did a biopsy on one of the tumors and determined it was cancerous.

“[The doctors] said, ‘we’ve got to go in and do something about this,’ because they didn’t want [the cancer spreading to other areas of the body],” Ford said.

Ford had 18 inches of his intestines surgically removed. A few days later, an oncologist came into his hospital room and told him, “I just want to say it’s not often I get this opportunity to tell somebody there’s no evidence of any more cancer.”

“It was a total relief,” Ford said.

It also made him think.

“I should have known better,” he said. “I had my referral to get a colonoscopy done three months before that occurred. I just set it on the desk and didn’t do anything about it. Had I gotten it done, it might have just been polyps they found instead of it aggressively turning into a tumor.

“But it would have gotten worse if I didn’t do anything about it. My body’s reaction created a pathway for me…it got my attention.”

It would not be the last battle Ford would have to win.

A New Cancer Three Years Later 

In 2018, while undergoing an annual exam with his internist — “bloodwork is the key, you’ve gotta get that done” — Ford was told he had a high PSA level. A PSA test measures levels of a specific antigen in the prostate, according to the Mayo Clinic, and a high number may indicate potential problems in the prostate gland, including inflammation, infection, and enlargement as well as cancer.

After undergoing further tests with a urologist, including another biopsy, Ford learned there was a tumor on his prostate.

He was momentarily shaken. There was a cancer history in his family; an uncle died from pancreatic cancer. But in Ford’s mind, high blood pressure and hypertension were bigger health concerns.

“I’ve always been somewhat health conscious because I do take high blood-pressure medication,” Ford said. “I had a brother who passed away at age 51 from a massive heart attack. My sister had open-heart surgery at age 50. So heart disease has been in my family, and I’ve been on blood pressure medication since I was 23-24.

“I’m thinking, ‘if I go out, [hypertension] is how I’m gonna go out.’”

Because — again — the cancer was detected early, Ford had options on how to proceed. He decided on radiation therapy. So from March to July that year — a total of 45 days — Ford underwent clinical radiation treatment to kill the tumors.

Still, the news of having prostate cancer hit him harder psychologically than the colon cancer did. He decided to only tell his immediate family of his new condition.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone at work; I took off maybe one day, and that’s when I had my biopsy,” he said. “But this also goes into other areas. I’m a 60-year-old Black man working for a Fortune 500 company who’s now had cancer twice. Could I trust their vision to maintain my employment if I had announced the [prostate cancer]?

“So I didn’t tell anybody else until after I had gone through the entire 45 days or radiation, and [the doctors] told me I was in the clear.”

Counting His Blessings

M. Terry/SFVS
Ford and other members of the American Cancer Society’s California board set to discuss new strategies.

Besides the successful treatments, Ford believes there was a spiritual reason for why he has beaten cancer twice.  

“I always tell people that when I got sick, God was tapping me on my shoulder twice. And when I got better, God tapped me on my heart,” he said. “Had I not done what I was supposed to do…I wouldn’t be talking to you today.

“While I am conscious that I have [survived] these previous encounters, it doesn’t mean I won’t have another one if I don’t take care of myself. I have to do as much as I can to prevent [another bout with cancer].”

And whenever Ford has an opportunity to speak about cancer prevention, especially with other African American men — and women — he does so. 

“With the impact of healthcare, and the social and economical disparities in our country, as far as I’m concerned the African American community is in a crisis because of our mortality and morbidity tables,” Ford said. “When we have premature deaths of key Black folks, we lose that legacy of sustainable influence on our communities.”

He adds his concerns are greater now due to “this current environment we’re in,” meaning the pandemic.

“There are a lot of ancillary deaths associated with COVID that are not directly caused by COVID, but instead from a lack of regular checkups and access to healthcare professionals,” Ford said. “People don’t get checkups, they don’t get diagnosed, and by the time they do, [a cancer] can be in its third or fourth stage and chances of survival really go down.”

“You can buy a watch or a clock. But you can’t buy time.”