A prostate cancer survivor himself, the two-time World Series champion is speaking up about the disease and encouraging others to do the same.
by Kaylene Chadwell and Laura Shipp
For Major League Baseball fans, “Ken Griffey” is a household name. In the early 90s, Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. made history when they became the first father and son pair to play on the same MLB team at the same time. Further cementing their spot in the record books, as Seattle Mariners teammates, they became the only father-son duo to hit back-to-back home runs. The elder Griffey is a three-time MLB All Star outfielder who helped the Cincinnati Reds win two consecutive World Series titles. Griffey Jr. is a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer who also happens to be one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the sport.
However, baseball talent isn’t the only thing that runs in the family for the Griffeys. They also share a family history of prostate cancer. “I lost four uncles to prostate cancer,” Ken Sr. tells Coping magazine. “My mother insisted I take my risk seriously and get regular prostate cancer exams.”
Thus, when rising PSA levels led to a diagnosis of early-stage prostate cancer in the summer of 2006, Ken Sr. wasn’t exactly surprised. What did surprise him, however, was just how difficult it was for him to talk about his diagnosis.
“Despite how much our family talked about prostate cancer,” Ken Sr. explains, “when it came to my own diagnosis, I was struck by how hard it was for me to speak up and tell my family what was really going on.”
For a lot of men, it’s embarrassing to talk about.
Ken found it especially challenging to share the news with his oldest son, Ken Jr., as he didn’t want his diagnosis to become a distraction for his son on the field. At the time, the younger Griffey was playing center field for his dad’s former team – the Cincinnati Reds. On top of that, the Griffey children had just learned their mom was contending with her own diagnosis of colon cancer.
“I’ll never forget the day I learned that Dad had prostate cancer. It was my mom who broke the news to me, because Dad was focused on being there for everyone else,” Ken Griffey Jr. shares in a press statement. “I know that it can be hard for men to talk about prostate cancer, because men want to be tough. My dad was trying to be strong for us – and over time, he realized it’s strong to speak up.”
Once the elder Griffey began to open up to friends about his diagnosis, he realized he wasn’t the only one who had difficulty talking about this below-the-belt men’s disease. “I had a couple friends that I had played golf with for years who had this cancer, and they had never said a word,” he reveals. “When they heard that I had prostate cancer, that’s when they finally spoke up about it.
“A lot of men don’t talk about prostate cancer, especially if they have it,” he goes on to say. “It’s hard for men to talk about incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and all those things because, for a lot of men, it’s embarrassing to talk about.”
In fact, according to a survey by the International Prostate Cancer Coalition, nearly 70 percent of men living with prostate cancer admitted to sometimes ignoring symptoms, rather than tell their doctor about them. In addition, one in five men said that talking about symptoms like pain makes them feel weak. And more than half said they feel their daily discomfort is just something they have to live with.
Because Prostate Cancer Can Spread, It’s Important to Know What to Look For
If you are currently living with advanced prostate cancer, ask yourself these questions:
• Are you having trouble doing regular activities?
• Are you taking more medicine for pain or discomfort?
• Are you living with aches, discomfort, or pain you can’t explain?
You may think these things are occurring because of your age, a busy day, or a simple change in routine. You also may think that over-the-counter or prescription pain medicine is the only solution to treat these symptoms.
But these aches, pains, and lifestyle changes could be a sign or symptom of your prostate cancer spreading to bone.
Speak up. Listen to what your body is telling you. And talk to your doctor about which treatment may be right for you.
Now 10 years cancer-free after robotic prostatectomy, Ken Sr. is trying to change all that – and he’s once again teaming up with his son Ken Jr. to do it. This time, instead of racking up home runs, they’re encouraging men with prostate cancer to know the warning signs of advancing disease and speak up about their symptoms as part of Bayer’s Men Who Speak Up movement.
“I’m just trying to help men who have prostate cancer talk to their doctors,” says Ken Sr. “One of the most important things is that I get a chance to talk to a lot of people about prostate cancer. I can share what I went through, and then maybe they’re not afraid to talk to other people about it. That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Men Who Speak Up is a nationwide movement to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of advancing prostate cancer.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2016.