Teaming Up To Win
by Julie McKenna
The New York Yankees' manager, Joe Torre, lead his team to its 26th World Series title on October 26, 2000, with a 4-2 win over the New York Mets. With this fourth crown in five years, Joe Torre knows what it takes to win: teamwork. In his 40-year career with baseball (17 as a player and 23 as a manager), Torre has achieved a long list of accomplishments, including having the highest winning percentage ever for a manager in the World Series. Last year, Torre added surviving prostate cancer to the list.
In March 1999, Joe Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was in Tampa, Florida, for spring training when he got the results from a blood test that did not look good. While he was waiting for more blood tests to be taken, he called an oncologist friend in Cincinnati who flew to Tampa to talk with Joe about his options. “By the time you go through all those tests and biopsies, you’ve pretty much prepared yourself for something to be wrong,” Joe admits. The test results showed he had prostate cancer and that is when Joe and his wife, Ali, began meeting with doctors. They discussed test results and treatment options and Joe says, “I felt better because I started doing something about it.”
"The support factor and all the digging Ali did was very important."
Ali was the one to take charge and start hunting for information when they got the diagnosis. "She got the information, she read books, she got on the Internet, so when we did meet with the doctors she had all the questions prepared to ask them,” says Joe. “The support factor and all the digging she did was very important. A lot of men don’t want to share this because the side effects have something to do with your intimacy with your wife. It’s sort of an ego thing that men really have to get over quickly because the most important thing is living.”
For Joe and Ali, they knew that this was going to be something they had to battle together. “It is a couple’s disease,” says Ali. “It’s something that you work on together. It’s helpful to act as an advocate for your husband. Ultimately, he has to be the one to make the decision, but he is going through a lot of emotions and dealing with some major issues, and if you can support and reassure him, that’s very helpful.”
Ali also stresses the importance of spouses having their own support system. Even though it is the man who is actually going through treatments, the spouse is going through similar emotions. In the beginning, Ali says, they were not communicating with each other about what they were thinking and feeling. It was helpful for them to open up and talk about the treatments and the side effects. “You can’t just be protective of each other, you really have to communicate and express your feelings and what you’re going through,” explains Ali.
Since then Joe and Ali have become involved in Two Against One: Couples Battling Prostate Cancer. This program informs spouses about prostate cancer and helps them become advocates for their husbands’ treatments. Joe and Ali stress the value of spouses working together after a prostate cancer diagnosis.
"When I learned that Joe had prostate cancer, there was no question that I'd be there for him."
“It was a very difficult experience to go through,” says Ali. “But when I learned that Joe had prostate cancer, there was no question that I’d be there for him. Although prostate cancer was first and foremost about my husband’s life, it would be the two of us who would fight this disease, both on our own and together as a couple.”
Getting involved with the Two Against One program was important for the Torres because they wanted to make the information more readily available for other couples than it had been for them. “I wish I would’ve had this when Joe was first diagnosed because it would have been so helpful with gathering the information that you need,” explains Ali. “When you’re initially faced with asking the questions and getting the information, it’s overwhelming. There’s so much information, and then you have to sort it out.” This program was developed with US TOO! International, Inc., the American Foundation for Urologic Disease and many medical urologists and oncologists. Amgen and Praecis Pharmaceuticals sponsor the program.
Also helpful for Joe was the support that he received from others. He got calls from people in baseball he knew and didn’t know, all with words of encouragement. The Torres received loads of fan letters with messages of hope. “You don’t realize how many people you touch until something like this happens, and then you see them all rallying around you and it was a great feeling for me to know that,” recalls Joe. I found one letter reminding me that when I was manager for the New York Mets I went to the hospital to visit this person’s son, and told the son that he was going to be fine. And at the time the prospects weren’t very good, and it turns out that he came through it and came out of the hospital and is doing well now. That was moving to me.”
After two months off for surgery, Joe returned to the Yankees to manage the team for the rest of the season. “The most important thing the doctor told me that stayed in my mind was ‘I’ll have you back to work in no time,’” remembers Joe. For him, going back to work was good therapy because it gave him something to focus on other than cancer.
Joe advises couples dealing with a cancer diagnosis that “there is a lot of hope out there. You can do something about it. That’s the most important message I want to get across. Don’t pretend it’s going to go away. It’s only going to go away if you take action and do something about it. There’s no right or wrong treatment, it’s what’s best for you. There are a number of different ways to attack this disease. You can live a normal, productive life.”
Joe Torre and the New Your Yankees ended the first Subway Series in 44 years with a Game 5 ninth-inning victory to clench the team’s third straight title. Joe Torre has proven that teamwork is what it takes to win baseball games. Joe and Ali have found that it takes the same thing to survive cancer as it does to win baseball games: teamwork.
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This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2000.