If you spent any time at all flipping through TV stations late at night in the late ’90s and early ’00s, you no doubt heard Miss Cleo’s voice on the Psychic Readers Network. Sadly, Miss Cleo died Tuesday while in hospice care — she was only 53. The cause of her death is one that is far more common than you might suspect.
Miss Cleo, whose real name was Youree Dell Harris, though she went by several aliases, had been diagnosed with colon cancer. The cancer spread to her liver and lungs, and the Los Angeles-born self-described psychic and shaman ultimately lost her battle to the disease and died surrounded by family and friends.
Just to jog your memory, here’s a video clip of Miss Cleo putting on a pitch-perfect Jamaican accent and delivering her no-BS advice to a heartbroken woman. Her “call me now” alone made a lot of us pick up the phone before promptly putting it down when we realized our parents would kill us when they got that phone bill at the end of the month.
It needs to be said that Miss Cleo died from one of the most common forms of cancer that black women battle. Colon and rectum cancers affect 4.7 percent of black women and 2.1 percent (1 in 47) died from this type of cancer from 2010 through 2012. This is a higher percentage than for non-Hispanic whites, and it’s the third deadliest form of cancer for black women — with breast cancer killing 3.3 percent of women and lung and bronchus cancer responsible for the deaths of 42 percent of women.
There are several lifestyle factors that are connected to colon cancer, including eating a diet high in red meats and processed foods, being overweight, smoking and not getting enough exercise. Age also affects risk — after age 50, your chances of developing the disease increase. Other risk factors include a history of inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal polyps and a family history of colon cancer or adenomatous polyps. Unfortunately, the reasons black women have the highest rates of colon cancer and mortality rates for the disease are still a mystery to the medical community.
But there’s a bright side. Regular screenings, before any symptoms are detected, can help diagnose colorectal cancer early enough for it to be successfully treated. Some of the tests used to screen for this type of cancer include a stool DNA test, a CT scan of the colon and rectum and a colonoscopy, which the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends all patients begin at age 50 and continue until age 75.
Our thoughts go out to Miss Cleo’s family and loved ones. We hope her untimely death serves as a reminder to make health and early screenings a priority.