If you skipped a doctor’s visit or regular screening procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. But legendary singer Patti LaBelle would like you to book that overdue appointment ASAP.
“I lost three sisters and a great friend to cancer before they turned 50,” LaBelle tells SELF. “My sisters died of colon cancer and lung cancer, and my friend died of breast cancer. So, after losing them, I was petrified that 50 would be my death point.”
LaBelle, now 77, is passionate about making sure people go for their recommended screenings and take the steps they can to take care of their health. She stars in a new PSA for Time to Screen, a cancer screening awareness campaign from the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) and CancerCare.
The right time for you to get screened depends on the type of screening and your individual risk factors. So if you’re not sure what procedures you’re due for, talk to your usual health care provider or check the Time to Screen site for the recommended guidelines.
LaBelle, who has diabetes, says she’s personally been able to keep up with her routine doctor’s appointments “like clockwork”— even during the pandemic—thanks to the rise of virtual visits. But encouraging others in your life to get their recommended screenings isn’t always easy to do.
When having those conversations, LaBelle says she always “comes from a heartfelt, true place,” and doesn’t mind being the one to remind people over and over. LaBelle also frequently talks about losing her sisters to cancer onstage. “It’s probably redundant,” she says. “I stay on people’s cases, I do that a lot.”
And it’s true that “people were afraid for the last 17 months to go to a doctor’s office and get a screening procedure done,” she says. “They’re afraid of being diagnosed with cancer and then afraid of going to the facility that might not be safe because of COVID.” But now with vaccines available and with a better understanding of the virus, LaBelle says she “really prays that people take advantage of screening options.”
For LaBelle, the pandemic has made her grateful to still be here. She’s spent her time finding ways to relax and engage in as many of her usual activities as COVID-19 safety protocols allow. That includes walking her dog Mr. Cuddles, catching up on Netflix, and cooking (socially distanced) Sunday dinners for family and friends. “We can’t stop living,” she says. “You can’t stop having fun.”