The 2009 pennant races may be hot, but heavy on former Cincinnati Reds right fielder Ken Griffey Sr.'s mind is another battle: prostate cancer. Now a hitting, base-running, and outfield instructor for the Reds and commissioner of the new Florida Winter Baseball League celebrated his status as a two-year survivor of the disease in July. Griffey, 59, is encouraging men across the country — including his famous son and namesake, Seattle Mariner Ken Jr. — to get screened as part of The Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer.
Q: How did you find out you had prostate cancer?
A: I had four uncles who passed from the disease, so my family history indicated I was going to get it sooner or later. Every time I went for a physical, my doctor took my PSA (prostate-specific antigen blood test). We found it so early that I didn't have to have radiation or chemo after surgery.
Q: You're lucky you were having physicals so often.
A: When you're a player or coach, you have physicals every year. But a lot of men don't go to the doctor unless they're hurting.
Q: What would you say to someone who has that attitude?
A: Don't be such a macho guy. Just because you feel OK doesn't mean there's not a problem. It's really a silent killer—you don't know there's anything wrong until it's too late.
Q: It must have been scary to be diagnosed after seeing family members die of the disease.
A: They were a lot older — my mother was the youngest of 11. So I wasn't really close to them. But my mother made sure I started getting checked around age 30. Plus, my doctor didn't let up on it, and he didn't let me forget about it either.
Q: How has your lifestyle changed since your diagnosis?
A: I eat more fruits and vegetables and do more walking, about an hour a day. It's tough to stay active—my schedule's worse than when I was a player. I try to get up in the early morning and walk. I walk in the mall when I travel. Whatever it takes to stay healthy.
Q: This is an extremely personal issue—more difficult for men to open up about than breast cancer is for women.
A: We're trying to get on the same page with prostate cancer. I had five or six friends who had the surgery and never talked about it until I was diagnosed. It's a tough scenario — the surgery, the treatment, the incontinence. It's hard to talk about these things but it's the best way to prevent the spread of prostate cancer.
Lower your risk
Adding these foods to your diet may help prevent prostate cancer—or slow its growth if you have it.
- Green tea: In several studies, one antioxidant in green tea, EGCG, appeared to help block the growth of cancer cells and protect healthy cells from the disease.
- Brazil nuts: Though the evidence is mixed, some clinical trials have shown that selenium, a mineral found in Brazil nuts, garlic and shellfish, could cut prostate cancer risk in half. If you already have the disease, talk to your doctor before increasing your selenium intake.
- Tomato + broccoli: When scientists from the University of Illinois fed rats this healthy combo, the animals' prostate cancer tumors shrunk significantly more than when they snacked on either tomato or broccoli individually. The researchers think the broccoli's sulfur compounds and tomato's lycopene target cancer cells in different ways. To recreate this powerful anti-cancer combo, eat three servings of broccoli and tomatoes or tomato sauce per week.