Mike Haynes Talks Openly about Prostate Cancer
Not all men are comfortable talking about their prostate; many call it prostrate with an “r” which is defined as lying stretched out on the ground with one’s face downward. Make no mistake though, NFL Hall of Famer, Mike Haynes, knows exactly how to spell p-r-o-s-t-a-t-e c-a-n-c-e-r because he had it.
Mike was a premier cornerback, defensive back, and punt return specialist for the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. He continues to show himself a champion as he speaks out boldly about prostate cancer and the need for early detection.
MyEliteNetwork: We’re going to dive into the deep end of the pool, Mike, and get right into the nitty-gritty. Describe your very first prostate screening at the Hall of Fame. Were you apprehensive, and did you walk away thinking everything was okay?
Mike Haynes: At the time I had no idea what a prostate screening was. I worked in the NFL, and the Urology Care Association had launched the Prostate Screening Program for players. I was asked to check on how the screenings were going. When I arrived, a few ladies who were there suggested I take a simple blood test because it might encourage some of the other guys to get screened who were just standing around talking. I had never received my blood test results that quickly; it was like 15-20 minutes afterward. And that’s where it started for me. The doctor asked me questions about my family’s prostate cancer history, my baseline PSA, and the last time I had an exam. I didn’t even know what a PSA count was… I thought maybe it was a public service announcement.
MyEliteNetwork: Had you ever given thought to regular prostate screenings before that day?
Mike Haynes: I had annual checkups, and I just presumed that my doctor was doing all the right things. I think I’m like a lot of men who just charge ahead—we exercise, don’t ask a lot of questions, and hope everything’s okay. I had received a clean bill of health from my doctor just four months earlier, so I wasn’t expecting any new news to come from our conversation.
The doctor at the Hall of Fame provided me with enough information and statistics to scare me, especially when he told me that one in five African-American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, especially if it runs in their family. I thought that was an awful lot of men. Before then I had never even heard of prostate cancer. I wondered, where is my prostate and what does it do?
When I got back home, I called my primary care doctor and asked a ton of questions, including finding out my last PSA number. Our conversation led to him recommending I go for a biopsy, so I made an appointment with a urologist who told me, Hey don’t worry it, looks like you’re in great shape. Well, what we know now is my shape had nothing to do with anything. He was trying to make me feel good and comfortable. I have to be completely honest here; the biopsy was not a fun test. Nuf’ said.
Result: Positive. I had prostate cancer.
The urologist told me that often men don’t want to get the physical exam, but they actually need both the blood work and the physical exam because their blood might not be signaling anything is wrong. When the doctor feels your prostate, he may feel that something is going on there, but it doesn’t mean you have cancer, what it does mean is that he should do a bit more checking.
MyEliteNetwork: Now to answer everybody’s question, did the prostate exam hurt?
Mike Haynes: It’s uncomfortable.
MyEliteNetwork: How uncomfortable?
Mike Haynes: It didn’t hurt, but it was very uncomfortable…very uncomfortable.
MyEliteNetwork: You know when you’re asked to relax, you think, Okay, right, easy for you to say doc.
Mike Haynes: Even though it wasn’t an enjoyable test, it’s nothing to be afraid of; you just have to get over it.
MyEliteNetwork: Men typically don’t talk about their prostate issues when in a group with a bunch of guys. How did you approach the topic when talking to other men?
Mike Haynes: Before that time, I had never met an African-American man who had prostate cancer, or was a survivor. I knew I needed to talk about it just to figure it all out and find out who had accurate information. I let it be known that I was now a spokesperson for prostate cancer; that way men don’t feel uncomfortable opening up and talking to me because they know I’m a survivor. It’s certainly a conversation starter and one that I think men need to talk more about because they would soon find that if they catch the disease in the early stages, it’s very treatable.
MyEliteNetwork: What was your initial reaction when you heard the word cancer in 2008?
Mike Haynes: Well, I didn’t say anything at first. My life flashed before me, and I started thinking, Gosh, I still have young kids, and I’m not sure if I know for sure that my family will be okay. When I finally came back to reality, I looked up at the doctor and said I want it out. When can we get it out? My doctor replied calmly, Mike, settle down, you’ve got plenty of time. You don’t have to rush here; you caught it in the early stages. You’ve got plenty of time to make a good decision about what you want to do. I thought he was just being nice.
I don’t know that I believed him until I started talking to other doctors and other survivors. It was those conversations that led me to believe we did catch it early and that I had time to make the right choice, and get educated. My wife read a 500-page book on prostate cancer, written by Dr. Peter T. Scardino. At first, I was in the dark, but when I finally opened up and talked about it, that’s when I started feeling better. The first person I spoke to was my boss. I walked into his office, closed the door, and said, I have prostate cancer. I thought he was going to be broken up and sad for me but instead, he said, I have a lot of friends who have prostate cancer. He mentioned a couple of guys’ names that I knew, and at that point I was able to find guys to talk to and ask questions.
The next person I talked to after my boss was a woman on an airplane. We were sitting next to each other, and she asked me, so what do you do? I blurted out, well you know I was just diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I’m kind of depressed. She responded I’m an oncology nurse. The conversation went upward from there. Talk about divine appointment.
MyEliteNetwork: Did you have the Da Vinci robotic prostate surgery, or some other type of surgery?
Mike Haynes: That’s precisely the treatment I had, but I talked to a lot of different survivors who underwent different treatments.
My wife suggested that we go with DaVinci and I initially said no I want to go in a different direction. But in the end, she won out, and we flew to San Diego and met with Dr. Chris King, also a football fan, who helped me feel a lot more comfortable. My goal was to find a doctor who had performed a lot of surgeries and had a ton of experience in the prostate cancer arena. Right after the surgery, I felt like I didn’t even need to spend the night at the hospital but I guess there are some rules, so I spent the night and left the next day. It was easy, and everything came out all right, and the outcome was fantastic.
MyEliteNetwork: How have your daily life habits changed since you’ve been cancer free?
Mike Haynes: Well I’d say maybe for the first year, and maybe even two years there were some challenges when I had to urinate. That’s because I didn’t do the Kegel exercises the doctor suggested. I think that would have made it a lot easier. But all in all, I didn’t have any complications except for a few minor accidents. The first time was when I lived in San Diego and was driving to Los Angeles. Anyone in the So. Cal. area knows that traffic can be horrendous. Well, I was stuck in that traffic, and I couldn’t get to an exit, and I needed to get to a bathroom…so you know that was a lot of fun. I learned I needed to always go to the bathroom before I jumped on the road, especially if I was going to be in traffic.
MyEliteNetwork: It’s been said that a woman is the neck that turns the man’s head. Are there any magic words a woman can say to her husband or significant other to strongly encourage him to get screened, especially if he’s hesitant?
Mike Haynes: Yes, a woman can ask her husband if prostate cancer runs in his family, and if he doesn’t know, she can check with other members of his family to find out. She can educate herself and ask the right questions at doctor’s appointments. She doesn’t have to force the issue but there might come a time when she observes something that is unusual, and she uses her feminine power to make him get the screening.
MyEliteNetwork: The Urology Care Foundation partnered with the NFL in 2007 to provide prostate cancer screenings for retired players. As an ambassador of awareness, share a little bit about the Foundation and if you see a growing number of former players taking advantage of the resources offered through the Foundation.
Mike Haynes: At my first screening, I was the first guy diagnosed with prostate cancer. The screening is held every year at the Hall of Fame, and it’s not unusual for a player to discover that he has a high PSA and needs to have a conversation with his doctor when he gets back home. It’s a great program because it’s really raising awareness about the importance of early detection. We work with a lot of Hall of Famers who go into hospitals to talk about the importance of early detection.
MyEliteNetwork: Why is it so important to raise awareness for the younger guys in their twenties coming into the league who might think they don’t need to worry about their prostate yet?
Mike Haynes: Because it will become important as they age. When players are in their twenty’s, their dad is probably in his forty’s or fifty’s, and maybe the player needs to be the one who talks to their dad or uncle or an older male relative.
MyEliteNetwork: What do you say to those men who shudder at the thought of having their prostate checked?
Mike Haynes: I start by saying I understand how you feel. I’m just like you, and I know it is not easy but it has to be done. It is a point of joke-telling among men, that’s for sure.
It’s a little unsettling when guys ask me what the doctor does to check the prostate, and when I explain it the guy yells out, no way! The first time I had the test I didn’t know what was coming. I was playing for the Patriots, and every year the players would take a physical. I had had contract problems, and I signed my contract after the regular season started, so I had my physical examination at a doctor’s office which was different than what we normally did at the training facility.
I was in my early twenty’s, and when the doctor asked me to get in that position I had no idea what he was going to do; I felt violated and just kind of went crazy on him because I wasn’t prepared. I also felt uncomfortable when the doctor asked to touch my testicles and told me to cough. I think it helps when you have a conversation beforehand and request that your doctor explain what he’s doing as he’s examining you.
MyEliteNetwork: Did you have a digital rectal exam?
Mike Haynes: Yes, absolutely. There are just certain things you have to do for your health that doesn’t feel good, but you do them because it’s the right thing to do.
MyEliteNetwork: Where can men go to find more information about prostate health and the Know Your Stats campaign?
Mike Haynes: The best place to go is the Urology Care Foundation website and knowyourstats.org. There you can find out a lot about our campaign and read about what’s going on in your neighborhood, like pre-screenings or maybe a doctor or survivor giving a speech about prostate cancer.
MyEliteNetwork: Is there anything else you want to say to men reading this interview?
Mike Haynes: The only thing I’d like to say is that if the men who read this interview are survivors, I’d like to encourage them to tell their story to at least one person and encourage other men to have a conversation with their doctor to get educated about their prostate health. If we can get other survivors to be proactive about telling other men, at least during Prostate Cancer Awareness month in September, I think we’ll be farther ahead than we are now.
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