NFL Legend Battles Back from Prostate Cancer

NFL Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champion Mike Haynes seeks to spread awareness about prostate cancer following his fight with the disease.

A legendary cornerback in the NFL, former New England Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders star Mike Haynes is no stranger to waging war on the gridiron.

Haynes was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, following a storied career that includes the 1976 NFL Rookie of the Year award, 1984 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, a Super Bowl championship, and 9 NFL Pro Bowl selections. But in 2008, the battles Haynes faced on the field could only pale in comparison to the toughest opponent of his life.

During a routine screening, Haynes was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“I was working at the National Football League at the time and my boss asked me to go down to a screening to see if I could encourage some of the guys to get involved and go through a screening too,” Haynes said. “I went down and these ladies, that I later called angels, they’re the ones who said ‘hey why don’t you do it. Maybe just going through it will encourage other guys to go through with it.’”

No later than 30 minutes passed when Haynes received a call from a doctor giving him his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test results.

“He started asking me a lot of questions, and I realized that I didn’t know anything about prostate cancer,” Haynes confessed.

PSAs are proteins that are produced by the cells of the prostate gland. By taking a PSA test, physicians are able to measure the levels of PSA in the blood.

“[The doctor] scared me when he gave me the stats that 1 in 5 African American men were going to be diagnosed with this disease in their lifetime,” Haynes said. “So I got back home and I called my primary care doctor. He looked at my chart and, fortunately for me, he was recording my PSA at my annual physicals and he did see that my PSA was rising.”

His doctor initially recommended a biopsy, mainly because as an African American, Haynes has a statistically greater likelihood of developing prostate cancer.

“I found out that I had it. I had it in 9 of the 12 places that they checked,” Haynes said.

Although the disease was detected in its early stages, Haynes had trouble digesting the information and believing that he could overcome this new and terrifying foe.

“I’m a little bit embarrassed to say that I didn’t cope with it very well,” he said. “I told my wife not to tell anyone--my kids didn’t know, my mom didn’t know. I just didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. Even though the doctors were saying we found it early and I was going to be fine, I just thought they were being nice, that they didn’t want to put fear into me.”

Eventually, Haynes was able to start talking about his disease and he developed a more positive outlook on what his outcome would be.

“When I finally started to talk about it is when good things started to happen,” Haynes said. “I started understanding that the doctors were right, that we did catch it early. I started gaining confidence and that helped an awful lot.”

Haynes called the American Urological Association, who he is currently working with to spread awareness about the disease.

In addition to providing Haynes with educational resources, he was put in contact with different doctors and experts in different areas to provide answer to his myriad questions.

“They made me really feel comfortable and confident that I caught it early and that it was a good decision for me to call them,” Haynes noted.

Haynes subsequently found out that prostate cancer ran in his family and that his grandfather died from the disease.

“As it turns out, my grandfather had it and I was unaware of it,” he said. “In my rookie year, he passed away and I just remember that he died of cancer.”

When navigating through a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to have a support system in place to help patients get through. For Haynes, that person was his wife.

“She really did a lot of the research when I was feeling sorry for myself and depressed,” Haynes said. “She was reading books and trying to figure out different things about this disease. She stayed positive and helped me stay positive.”

Despite not wanting to get a radical prostatectomy originally, Haynes’ wife was the one who researched the procedure and felt it could be a good option for him.

“After a consultation with my doctor, he also thought that that was a great way to go for me based on my test results, and that’s what I did,” Haynes said. “So I was fortunate to have her in my corner.”

The procedure turned out to be the right move for Haynes, a decision that ultimately helped save his life.

“The doctor did a great job and not much changed," he said. “I have exactly the same sex life that I had before. There were a lot of considerations or things that could have happened that didn’t happen for me, a lot of concerns we talked about before my surgery, but I came out fine.”

Haynes had his surgery in the spring of 2009 and has been clear of the disease for more than 5 years. The surgery left him with a few lingering effects, but for the most part, Haynes recovered well.

“There was a little incontinence in the beginning and from what I understand that’s normal, that it just gets better over time, and it did,” Haynes said. “So it never was bad, but I was worried about it. After about 2 years, I haven’t had any issues at all.”

Haynes and the NFL have since teamed up with the Urology Care Foundation to work on the Know Your Stats About Prostate Cancer campaign. This program seeks to encourage men to learn about their cancer risks and to talk to their doctor about getting a prostate cancer test.

Haynes said he joined the campaign to encourage some of his fellow NFL legends, who can provide guidance and inspiration, to spread awareness to millions about the importance of getting tested in order to save a life.

“These guys do a lot of charity work and people love to talk to them,” Haynes said. “I knew that if Deacon Jones, Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen, Cris Carter, Michael Irvin, [NFL] Commissioner [Roger] Goodell, or Harry Carson looked you in the eyes and said ‘hey get off the couch and go get your prostate checked, have that conversation with your doctor, find out if it runs in your family, stay in the game of life.’ I knew that with their support, we could make a lot of difference in the world and we have been doing that since 2008.”

For Haynes, outside of achieving the goals of the foundation, he hopes to encourage other survivors to share their stories. He hopes this will prompt other men to find out if they have a familial history of the disease.

“Often times, what I’ve found is that men don’t talk about it,” he said. “They don’t say anything about it. They don’t even know what the prostate is. With so many men likely to get this disease, it’s a little bit embarrassing that they don’t know more about the prostate.”

It’s reported that every 2.4 minutes, a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer; every 19.1 minutes, someone will die from it; and that 1 out of every 6 men who sit down to watch the Super Bowl this year will be diagnosed with the disease.

Haynes stresses that if you get tested, you have the chance to catch the disease early.

“It doesn’t have to be a negative outcome if you found out early that you have it,” he said. “It’s early in the battle and there’s a great chance that you’re going to be fine.”

With so many resources currently available, the process is easier on patients than it was in the past.

“If you want to talk to anybody about it call me,” Haynes said. “If you have questions about incontinence or any of the other issues that happen with the disease you can call me. But there’s a resource that we have, it’s a web site knowyourstats.org, which has a lot of frequently asked questions and there’s great answers on there. There’s a lot of information that will help newly diagnosed patients find the type of information that they need to feel better about having a great outcome.”

His advice for patients who are newly diagnosed is to be proactive and meet prostate cancer head on.

“Talk to your doctor about every little thing that happens, because you’re not going to be the first person going through this treatment option,” Haynes said. “They can walk you through it and give you some expectations for you to get through it. You’re not alone, there are a lot of people you can call. I’m one of those people. There’s a lot of people that are in their lives who are hoping they will stay around and want to stay around.”

Haynes feels one of the worst things you can do is to avoid getting tested and learning your familial medical history.

“It’s important to know your family history because you want to catch it early when it’s treatable,” he said. “Don’t delay, it’s not worth the delay. I’ve talked to guys who say ‘I don’t’ want to know if I have it.’ No you do want to know, because if you catch it early, it’s treatable and you can have a normal life.”

Haynes stressed that most men are going to get prostate cancer in their lifetime, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Regardless of who someone is, whether it be an NFL legend or the typical, average male, prostate cancer does not discriminate.

“When people are talking about cancer, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, white or black, short or tall, old or young-- cancer can strike you,” Haynes said. “I think that you have to bear some responsibility yourself, get to know a little bit of your family history, and do what you can to stay in the game.”