Baseball’s Griffeys Team Up for Prostate Cancer Awareness

By Michele C. Hollow @michelechollow
August 01, 2017
ken griffey sr. and ken griffey jr.

#IGIVEBEYOND: Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. are back on the road. But instead of hitting home runs, they’re trying to get men to knock prostate cancer out of the park. 

Ken Griffey Jr. clearly recalls the day his mom told him that his dad, Ken Griffey Sr., had prostate cancer.

“It was scary, especially knowing our family’s history with prostate cancer,” said Ken Griffey Jr., a 13-time All-Star who is one of the most prolific home run hitters in baseball history. He spent most of his career with the Seattle Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds, and had a short stint with the Chicago White Sox. “I was more worried about my dad than my baseball game.”

After hearing the news, he met his dad on the day he was playing against the Philadelphia Phillies. Seeing his dad put his mind at ease. That day he got three hits.


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Early Diagnosis Rates of Prostate Cancer Continue to Fall


He was impressed by how well his dad handled the news. “I explained to him what was going on in terms of my having prostate cancer,” Ken Griffey Sr. said. “It’s scary because I grew up in a family where my mom lost her four brothers to prostate cancer. With our family’s history of prostate cancer, I made regular prostate exams a priority.”

It was a smart move because Ken Griffey Sr.’s doctor diagnosed the three-time baseball All-Star’s prostate cancer at an early stage. “I know not everyone with prostate cancer will be so lucky,” he explained.

That’s why he joined Bayer’s Men Who Speak Up movement, which encourages men with advanced prostate cancer to understand the symptoms and to be vocal about it. Speaking up is surprising to Griffey Jr. “Guys are tough,” he said. “We think we’re all right, that we’ll fix it later.”

“He knows,” said his dad, who was a professional baseball outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, and Seattle Mariners from 1973 through 1991, “and that’s why he’s speaking up with me.”

They volunteer their time as part of the Men Who Speak Up patient-focused program and participate in 10 events a year to educate men about the importance of getting annual checkups. “The most important thing is getting diagnosed early,” Griffey Sr. said. “I got screened early at age 35 because of my family’s history with the disease.”

According to the American Cancer Society, other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. Approximately one man in seven will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about 26,730 men die from the disease each year. Prostate cancer mainly develops in adult men about age 65 or older. It’s rare to be diagnosed before age 40. However, Griffey Sr. said if you have a family history of prostate cancer, get diagnosed early.

“My teammates and I were lucky to have doctors who kept our health in check,” he said. “During these annual tests, I was adamant about having a prostate exam because of my family’s deep history of prostate cancer.”

It was in 2006 that he got the news. “Despite my preparations, I was still unprepared for that diagnosis,” he said. “I had always been very willing to speak up about prostate cancer, until I had it myself. For the first time, I couldn’t find my voice.”

He had two advantages: his doctor caught his prostate cancer early, and he responded well to the treatment. “I learned that not every man will be so lucky, and there are times when prostate cancer advances and becomes life threatening,” he said. “For these men, staying silent can cost them their lives.”

(During the early stages of prostate cancer, most men have no symptoms and find out they have cancer only after a routine checkup. If symptoms do exist, they’re usually problems with urination or with erections or ejaculation.)

When Griffey Sr. was approached by Bayer’s Men Who Speak Up program in 2016, he and his son got involved. “I’ve heard moving stories from men and their loved ones who have been affected by prostate cancer,” he said. “The strong bonds I’ve formed with this community, my modern-day dream team, are powerful reminders that the work we’re doing to educate others is much needed.”

When they are out together as part of the Men Who Speak Up program, they emphasize that prostate cancer can run in families and isn’t always confined to the prostate. In some men, prostate cancer spreads (or “metastasizes”) beyond the prostate gland to other areas of the body, including the bones. This form of progressive disease can cause symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty walking or sleeping, unexplained pain, or difficulty doing normal activities – many of which often don’t emerge until the disease has advanced.

They also talk about the need to be vocal about the disease. “Reporting symptoms to your doctor can have a big impact on your treatment and disease management plan,” Griffey Sr. said.

The baseball duo want to make sure that no one faces prostate cancer alone. Caregivers, including family and friends, can provide practical and emotional support for daily challenges. Patient support groups and local community events are also available around the country and are great sources for educational information.


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Our section about common people doing uncommon acts, #IGiveBeyond


August 01, 2017