Sharon Coggins Credit: Photo courtesy of Sharon Coggins

Sharon Coggins’ son Fabian Amin Williams was 4 years old when he lost his father, Fabian Williams, to rectal cancer. Although the family endured grief and loss over losing Coggins’ husband to a disease, she and her son found a way to transform the pain into something that can help others. “Daddy Has Cancer” is a book Coggins and Fabian Amin Williams have written from the perspective of Williams watching and coming to terms with his father’s condition worsening and inevitable death. Today, the book has helped readers face the difficult reality of losing a loved one and helped to spread awareness of Fabian Amin Williams’ story to inspire men, especially men of color, to be proactive in their personal health.

Colon and rectum cancer is listed as the third most dangerous cancer for men and for women, according to UnityPoint Health. These forms of cancer are also known as colorectal cancer or CRC. However, CRC has higher occurrence rates in men than in women, the American Cancer Society’s Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2020-2022 report said.

“If there’s no Black man, there’s a breakdown in the family,” Coggins said.

Another disparity that is evident in colon and rectum cancer is in race. The American Cancer Society found that during 2012 to 2016, “CRC incidence rates in Blacks were about 20% higher than those in non-Hispanic whites (NHWs).”

CRC mortality is highest in non-Hispanic Blacks as well. Socioeconomic status and access to health care were some factors contributing to this disparity.

It can be difficult for adults to come to terms with the fact that they have a health condition or that they are sick. Coggins said that some of the men reading the book seem to have a harder time accepting this.

“They’re not ready to hear what’s going on and face the fact that these are things that are happening to men in general. They don’t want to believe they can become sick. They see themselves as strong and as providers,” Coggins said.

Meanwhile, Coggins said she noticed women are identifying with the story. The women can see their child in Coggins’ son or their husbands in Coggins’ husband. “I’ve seen grown people read the book and cry towards the ending. People can empathize with the child,” she said.

Coggins’ husband was from Jamaica. Coggins said she didn’t believe he was aware of what was going on at first. He started suffering from symptoms such as bleeding and erectile dysfunction.

The progression of Coggins’ husband’s cancer, which they weren’t aware of at the time, took a toll on the family. There were times when Coggins thought that her husband was unfaithful because of the increasing lack of intimacy as a side effect of his cancer. Not only that, but her son noticed some changes with his father. His father began losing the energy to play with him or do anything.

Coggins took him to the hospital, but the hospital didn’t pick up on something being wrong.

“They weren’t advocating for us as much as they should have,” Coggins said. “When we realized he was sick, we did our part [as a family] to make sure that he got the treatments and everything that he needed.”

The treatments included holistic and conventional medical routes. For instance, the family became vegetarian. Still, Fabian Amin Williams’ father lost his battle to cancer at 38 years old.

Fabian Amin Williams was often told that he was too young to understand what was happening to his father, but this wasn’t the case. Coggins would talk to him about what he was seeing. “The book was based on my son’s perspective and me wanting to make sure he was mentally and emotionally okay. Being able to communicate with your child is one of the things we should do as parents,” Coggins said.

Coggins was born in Guyana but raised in New York. She worked for the Department of Education as a teacher for 21 years. She is the mother of four.

Coggins said the book is useful because it helps parents educate their children on health. Also, the book allows kids to learn empathy for other human beings. By doing so, children may be better able to process
loved ones passing away.

“It’s important for people to show emotions towards each other and to be able to relate. We need more books out here like that. I’m glad my son and I did that for many,” she said.

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