Sterling K. Brown is embarking on a passion project. And, much like his NBC hit This Is Us, it shines light on difficult topics.
The two-time Emmy-winning actor partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb for a series called Survivorship Today: What It’s Like to Live with Cancer, streaming now at survivorshiptoday.com. In each episode, Brown interviews a cancer survivor about life after his or her diagnosis, exploring the physical, emotional and social effects.
Brown, 43, says his uncle died of cancer in 2004 — just six months after being diagnosed — and that it had a “devastating effect on our whole family.” The Black Panther actor wants cancer survivors watching his new series to know they’re not alone.
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“A lot of it is about helping people find community, so that they know they’re not going through this thing by themselves, that there are other cancer survivors who are having similar feelings to themselves,” Brown tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Often times what comes after can be more difficult than the diagnosis.”
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 15.5 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive in 2016, and by 2026, that number will rise to 20.3 million. People with cancer are able to live longer than ever before due to strides in research. But now, Brown says, it’s time to hone in on the realities of surviving it. “Just because you’re a cancer survivor doesn’t mean your story is done.”
“The fact that we’re talking about people living longer is a testimony in and of itself to the research that’s been made in cancer,” Brown tells PEOPLE. “It’s great that they’re living longer, yes. But people who haven’t gone through cancer think you should be nothing but happy.”
That’s not always the case. Brown says the people he’s had the opportunity to speak with through the series are grateful to be alive, but they’re not the same (physically or emotionally) as before their diagnoses.
Oncologist Dr. Morganna Freeman expanded on the issue in a Survivorship Today video clip: “We’re learning that there are a lot of different impacts [cancer] can have on their life and their body function, as well as their social and mental well-being, including how a patient sees themselves, what they can expect for a continued remission and will they be told one day that the cancer has come back.”
For Brown, it’s all about providing support and a safe space for cancer survivors because “there’s strength in community” — a concept he says is comparable to This Is Us, which has received critical acclaim for exploring sensitive and emotional plot lines about race, sexuality and death.
In 2017, the actor spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the hit drama, saying he’s “always really, really proud of an opportunity to tell people that they’re not alone.”
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