How Ken Griffey Sr. Found the Strength to Swing Back Against Prostate Cancer
Advocacy When the former three-time All-Star first learned he had prostate cancer, the diagnosis didn’t come out of left field.
Ken Griffey Sr. knew he was at risk. Having lost four uncles to the disease, he chose to make regular prostate exams a priority.
“Prostate cancer is an issue that’s close to my heart,” says Griffey. “I learned the importance of advocating for my own health early on. My mother drilled into me and my brothers that prostate cancer was something we needed to be aware of, given our family history.”
Facing the expected
While vigilance helped the iconic outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds catch his prostate cancer early, nothing prepared him to hear the words “you have prostate cancer.”
“Despite all of my preparations, I was still unprepared for that diagnosis. It took time for me to process what the doctor said, and what it might mean for my future. I knew I had to tell my family and have some serious conversations with my doctor, but I didn’t quite know how to go about any of it,” says Griffey.
Finding strength in family
Following his diagnosis, speaking up about prostate cancer became more difficult, especially when it came to telling his family. “My family is my world, so the thought of telling them about my diagnosis was overwhelming. I didn’t want to scare them,” recalls Griffey. “It was so tough for me for me to tell my kids, including my son [Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.,] that their mom ended up doing it for me.”
“I had always been very willing to speak up about prostate cancer—until I had it myself,” Griffey admits. “For the first time, I couldn’t find my voice.”
“‘I had always been very willing to speak up about prostate cancer—until I had it myself.’”
He did find his voice, however. Griffey shared the news, a move that ultimately helped him become more comfortable speaking with his doctor about his prostate health. “It took a great deal of encouragement from family for me to open up about how I was feeling,” he says. “Especially in the first year after my diagnosis, there were moments I didn’t think things would improve.”
Once he and his family were open with each other, an amazing thing happened: they banded together and got through it as a family. Together, they became more educated about prostate cancer, and even his grandkids pitched in. Looking back, the “Big Red Machine” outfielder can’t imagine going through this journey without them and the support system they provided.
Who’s at risk
“African-American men are 70 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer than any other race or ethnicity,” explains Jonathan W. Simons, M.D., president and CEO, Prostate Cancer Foundation. “When role models like Ken Griffey Sr. step up and share their stories, they embolden men to understand their risk of this disease.”
Together with his son, Griffey Sr. hopes to inspire other men to speak up about their prostate cancer journeys. Knowing how tough it is to open up about prostate cancer, he hopes to empower men to talk about their prostate health.
Awareness and prevention
“The prostate cancer community is really active, and great strides have been made in raising awareness for the disease,” sums Griffey Sr. “But conversations still rarely go beyond early stage disease, leaving a gap in terms of what happens if prostate cancer advances. I’d like to help men be empowered to talk about their advanced prostate cancer symptoms—it’s too important not to.”
Griffey Sr. considers himself lucky that his doctor caught and treated his prostate cancer early, and he knows that not all men have the same experience. He hopes that by going public about his diagnosis and treatment, men may feel comfortable speaking up about their health. He also wants to encourage men to have frequent check-ups and be on the lookout for warning signs that may indicate changes in their prostate health.
“My message to men is simple: Make your health a priority, and allow your loved ones to help,” Griffey says. “It made all the difference in my personal journey, and it can have a large impact on yours.”