Antwone Muhammad’s accolades are many. He has experienced the heights of success as a hip-hop artist working with recording stars Kanye West and Erick Sermon as well as Chicago producer Terry Hunter.
One of his greatest feats, though, was beating breast cancer in 2014. But five years later, the cancer has come back. As he seeks alternative treatments, Muhammad has been taking his life lessons to Chicago high school students and anyone else who has followed his music and now, he hopes, will learn from his journey.
“I tell my youth not to come around me being sad and depressed,” Muhammad said. “There’s no time for sadness.”
Male breast cancer is very rare. Less than 1% of all breast cancer cases develop in men, and only 1 in a 1,000 men will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. But men carry a higher mortality than women, primarily because men are less aware of the disease and likely to delay seeking treatment.
Muhammad was MCing a wellness tour in Chicago when he noticed the first signs of breast cancer: A discharge from his left nipple. It got worse and he finally had it checked out. Doctors discovered several cysts on the left side of his chest, and further tests determined they were malignant, Muhammad said.
“I underwent a mastectomy, had 15 lymph nodes removed and had chemotherapy as a precaution,” Muhammad said. “After chemo, I was in remission.”
Five years later, he fainted while out with his children and fractured an arm. He went to Loyola University Medical Center for treatment and was told cancer had returned, this time in his bones.
“I had a moment of hurt and fear and worry because cancer in the bone is not good to hear, “ Muhammad said. “But I realized I am in a great position because I can move around. I am grateful that I know this is happening, I just have to be more aggressive with my approach.”
Muhammad said he decided against chemotherapy or radiation this time, seeking instead alternative methods.
“I don’t want to negate the success or failures of Western medicine,” he said. “Some people fall into the shadows of what our parents, peers or doctors believe. … We don’t push the envelope and ask questions. We don’t ask why this is best. We just do it.”
Muhammad, who is about to publish a book about his experience, says some of his biggest supporters are the youth he mentors at Harlan High School through the Becoming A Man (BAM) program at Chicago public schools.
“They know what I am going through, and they know my decision,” he said, acknowledging that some are worried about whether he will survive. “But they tell me if you feel good about your decision … we are going to rock with you.”
Muhammad said the mentoring program has been a good chance for him to “practice what I preach.”
“Emotionally, I’ve learned how to change how I look at things,” he said. “Instead of looking at (cancer) as a death curse, I look at it as a blessing.”
After this first diagnosis, Muhammad said he set upon a mission to improve his health. At 265 pounds, he knew it was time.
“No I.D.,” a Chicago music producer, brought him to Los Angeles to meet with a doctor who treated cancers with natural approaches, Muhammad said. He has since dropped 100 pounds and, despite the second diagnosis, recently hiked at Starved Rock State Park.
Muhammad said his chosen way of living, “has really fueled me to learn as much as I can and use my life as an open book. … People really want to ask how does cancer feel, how do tumors feel? But now I’m the person going through it. Ask any and all the questions you want to ask. I want to raise awareness and give people a holistic view in the way we view cancer.”
His book, “Cancer Saved My Life: A Killer Became a Hero,” will be released later in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The book carries the same message he brings to students, Muhammad said. “We all have to live our own lives. I have to do what’s best for my wife and children. … The quality of life they see me living is important.”
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A release party and fundraiser for Muhammad will be held Oct. 20 at the Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. with appearances by fashion designer Dave Jeff, music producer Hunter and R&B singer Chantay Savage. An excerpt will be read by hip-hop artist Che “Rhymefest” Smith.
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