SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A bombshell disclosure Monday from Savannah Mayor Van Johnson who, during his weekly press briefing, spoke publicly for the first time about his recent battle with prostate cancer.
“On August 3, 2020, on my way from home to City Hall, I received the call and heard the words that no one wants to hear. ‘You have cancer’,” he told reporters.
The mayor went on to say he’s a survivor because of early detection.
During a routine physical, the mayor’s doctor discovered an abnormally high PSA, or Prostate Specific Antigen, level. A biopsy confirmed the cancer diagnosis. Johnson says, with the pandemic just ramping up, it was an inconvenient time.
“We’re partially open, partially closed, we’re waiting on some type of vaccine. We have people who are at home experiencing economic challenges, unlike ever before,” he said.
The mayor says catching cancer early gave him lots of treatment options. After monitoring it for a year, he underwent surgery in November 2021. Despite his diagnosis, he continued to serve as mayor.
“I did not miss a council meeting, and did not miss pretty much any events,” he recalled.
Having recently completed his third follow-up, Johnson says he’s cancer free. On Monday, flanked by doctors and survivors, he declared September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in Savannah.
“We recognize this kills people. We know that this proportionally kills more people of color than other folks, and so I think I have an obligation to tell folks, hey… don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Doctors with the South Atlantic Medical Association say being a person of color puts you at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, as does having a close relative who had it.
The guidelines for prostate cancer screening say you should start when you’re 55. However, if you’re a person of color or have a close relative who has had it, doctors say you should start getting screened as early as 40.
To give some perspective, the mayor was only 51 when he was diagnosed.