Advocacy Spotlight

Pulling Out a Win

Diamondback's Derrick Hall and Rep. Fred Allen turn their prostate cancer diagnoses into public advocacy

By Erin Brereton

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The timing couldn’t have been worse for Derrick Hall, president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

It was 2011 and the Diamondbacks were poised to make the Major League Baseball playoffs a month later—which Hall was determined not to miss. The call from Hall’s urologist, informing him that he had cancer, came when he was away from home, in San Diego, California, with the team for a game. Even worse, his dad was already battling pancreatic cancer.

Stunned, Hall immediately called his wife, Amy. Within a few days, he had told everybody—he emailed his staff, called his children and issued a press release.

Hall’s decision to publicly share the news that he had cancer may seem surprising. But he knew that, for him, it was the right call. “I felt like I could take advantage of having a public position and hopefully educate others and drive awareness,” Hall says. “I wanted to share my story.”

A Call to Action

Hall’s diagnosis was a surprise. A cardiologist who was monitoring his blood pressure and cholesterol included a PSA test in a round of lab work, and after discovering elevated levels, advised Hall, then 42, to meet with a urologist, who discovered the cancer.

Before deciding to move forward with surgery, Hall and his wife spent nights researching treatment options. Additional advice also poured in from some unexpected sources.

“That was one result of being so public—I got a number of phone calls from old acquaintances I didn’t even know had had cancer,” Hall says. “Most men out there don’t have that network. That’s one reason I started my foundation.”

After recovering from a successful surgery—Hall’s PSA level today is virtually undetectable—he launched the Derrick Hall Pro-State Foundation in 2013 to provide support for prostate cancer patients. Its website, Pro-State.org, offers objective information about testing, diagnosis and treatment.

Two years ago, Hall also joined the board of directors at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Goodyear, Arizona. “CTCA® is an unbelievably inspiring place, and I believe in it and its mission,” Hall says.

An Unsettling Result

Like Hall, Arkansas state Rep. Fred Allen wasn’t expecting a prostate cancer diagnosis when he agreed to be tested to help promote a church health fair. His doctor had checked his PSA level just six months earlier.

However, after being told his PSA level was suspicious, Allen, 54, had a biopsy and learned he had cancer. “I was totally shocked,” Allen says. “I thought everything was normal.”

At first, he only told his daughter, Camille. After choosing a treatment method—robotic surgery—Allen decided to share his diagnosis with more people. “I made it public,” he says. “At the same time I told my family, I called up all my legislative friends and told them.”

Allen was midway between elections, so he wasn’t worried about opponents targeting his illness or negative press. “What I was really concerned about was making sure the cancer wouldn’t recur,” he says.

Allen completed roughly a year of treatment. But two years later, his PSA levels began increasing, even after 40 radiation treatments. When his doctor told him he likely had six to nine months to live, Allen reached out to CTCA.

Because he had a unique circumstance—being a politician, at that point, in the middle of an election—his CTCA doctor gave him a month off during treatment to campaign, on one condition: Allen had to promise to return to treatment at Southeastern Regional Medical Center (Southeastern) in Newnan, Georgia, immediately afterward.

“The election was March 1, 2016,” he says. “I think I was right back at Southeastern on March 2.” Allen’s PSA level was 59 when he arrived at CTCA. Today it is at a level of 0.06.

“My team of oncologists headed by Dr. John McKnight put together a regimen for me, and it worked,” Allen says. “When I got there, I was stage 4, metastasized cancer. They never said how much time I had; they just said, ‘Keep a positive attitude and don’t give up. Keep fighting.’”

Allen says with the help of God, he went from stage 4 cancer back to the state house.

The Not-So-Silent Majority

Since his initial diagnosis, Allen has spoken at seminars, served on the Arkansas Prostate Cancer Foundation board and appeared on billboards promoting prostate cancer detection—all with the intent of furthering awareness and education.

“With cancer of the prostate, men don’t want to talk about it; they shut down,” Allen says. “That’s a tragedy. Talking about it can save lives.”

As part of his ongoing effort to encourage an open dialogue, Allen still works to promote the annual church screening that first revealed his cancer—which he hopes will encourage more men to get tested.

“The problem is there’s somewhat of a stigma that if you have prostate cancer, your life is over,” he says. “That’s not true. You can continue to do things you were doing before you were diagnosed—life goes on.”

No case is typical. You should not expect to experience these results.

CTCA, NFLA and LabCorp Team Up to Provide Free Prostate Cancer Screening

In an effort to increase awareness of prostate cancer, the most common  cancer among men, and the benefits of early screening, the National Football League Alumni Association (NFLA), Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) and LabCorp® are teaming up to educate men and increase access to screenings. From Sept. 1 through Oct. 15, 2017: 2,000 men age 40 and older who meet certain eligibility requirements can sign up to receive a free Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) screening at any of LabCorp’s 1,750 U.S. locations. After the first 2,000 spots are filled, eligible men can schedule a screening at the discounted price of $25 throughout the sign-up period. Screenings must be performed within six months of the sign-up date.

To find out if you or a loved one is eligible for free screening, go to Prostate Pep Talk.

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