Patient Pioneers: Ken Griffey Sr.

May 16, 2016

Ken Griffey Sr. is a three-time baseball All-Star and a prostate cancer survivor. After losing four uncles to the cancer, he chose to make regular prostate exams a priority, which helped him catch his cancer early. Through his family’s experience, he knows not everyone with prostate cancer will be so lucky. Because of that, he has joined Bayer’s Men Who Speak Up movement, which encourages men with advanced prostate cancer to know the symptoms of progressing disease and feel more comfortable speaking up. Ken is the keynote speaker at the Massachusetts Prostate Cancer Coalition’s annual Symposium on May 20 in Newton–one of several stops on his nationwide Men Who Speak Up tour. 

Q: What is your personal experience with prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is a topic that’s important to my entire family. Back in 2006, I was diagnosed early during a routine screening. This was after years of requesting a prostate exam at each annual physical.  Having lost four uncles to the disease, I knew all the reasons why I should speak up about my prostate health. I responded well to treatment, but I still see my doctor regularly and keep close tabs on my body, how I’m feeling and whether there are any signals or symptoms that I should flag for my doctor.

Q: How did your uncles deal with having advanced prostate cancer?

My uncles weren’t great at talking about the symptoms they were experiencing. They were unfortunately diagnosed too late, during a time when there weren’t as many treatment options available. Today, it’s a different situation. Early diagnosis has helped, different treatments have helped and if the disease advances, doctors can help men recognize their symptoms and manage their disease if the men are willing to speak up about them.

Q: What is Men Who Speak Up, and how does it help patients with advanced prostate cancer?

Men Who Speak Up brings to life the symptoms of advancing prostate cancer, which can include fatigue, difficulty walking or sleeping, unexplained pain or difficulty doing normal activities. The program encourages men to speak up and take action against advancing prostate cancer. For most men, active surveillance following early diagnosis means their cancer can be controlled; however, there are times, like with my uncles, when prostate cancer advances and becomes life threatening. What appeals to me about Men Who Speak Up are the tools and resources that have been created to help men who have progressed to this stage. The symptoms tracker and the discussion guide in particular can make it much easier to prepare for doctor appointments. I don’t think anyone going through this would disagree that it can sometimes be difficult to gather your thoughts before an appointment. There’s a lot going through your mind, and a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time.

Q: What have you learned from working closely with other patients and with Bayer during this program?

I have always considered myself fairly well-informed when it comes to prostate cancer because of how common it is in my family. But after partnering with Bayer, I learned a lot of new things about the disease that I had never really thought about, such as the symptoms and how it can progress. Symptoms in prostate cancer can be tricky, because they often don’t emerge until the disease has advanced. It’s also not always easy or obvious to determine the cause of these symptoms, so a good rule of thumb, especially if you have advancing prostate cancer, is to talk to your doctor if you notice any changes in how you’re feeling.

Q: What is your advice for those affected by advanced prostate cancer?

The prostate cancer community is really active, and great strides have been made in raising awareness for the disease. But conversations still rarely go beyond early stage disease and screenings, leaving a gap in terms of what happens if prostate cancer advances. The reality of the situation is that prostate cancer is not just the second most common cancer diagnosed, it’s also the second leading cause of cancer-related death among American men. No one should be scared to speak up about their health, and I’d like to help men be empowered to talk about their advanced prostate cancer symptoms – it’s too important not to.

See all MassBio News