Recently, on a warm day at Griffith Park, former Los Angeles Raiders and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Mike Haynes found himself talking about a subject he never imagined would impact him. He did so while serving as keynote speaker for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
This event, which takes place several times a year all over the United States, raises money for cancer research. Haynes, who was raised in Los Angeles and graduated from Marshall High School, is a survivor of the disease; he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. The discovery came as a surprise to Haynes, who had no history of cancer in his family. Additionally, Haynes experienced no warning signs to lead him to believe that he was having any physical problem.
“I wasn’t feeling any symptoms,” he said. “That’s the scary part. Now, after the fact, I guess I did have at least one symptom. My urination stream wasn’t as full then as it is now. I suppose, looking back, it had decreased over time compared to where it is back to now.
“I’m a real health nut,” the former football star said. “Yoga, green tea. I’ve never smoked. My mom is not a smoker. My dad is not a smoker, and he’s in his late 70s.”
Haynes discovered he had prostate cancer at a free screening that the National Football League was offering for retired players. “(The NFL) had a new organization called the Player Care Foundation which was formed to deal with retired player issues,” the nine-time Pro Bowler explained. “They were having a screening and they were kicking it off at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. I went down there not really to have a physical or have my blood tested but really just to do a public service announcement.”
However, somewhere en route to making the public service announcement, Haynes was persuaded by people from the American Urological Association to have a blood test to help influence others to take part in the process. His test results led to a conversation with a doctor who was there.
“This doctor, who was African American, started talking to me about my PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen),” Haynes recalled. “He wanted to know what my PSA number was. I told him that I didn’t know but I figured it must have been good, since I passed my annual physical just a few months earlier.
“He told me because I’m African American, I’m at a greater risk. He advised me to go back and find out what my primary care doctor (had discovered) and find out what my PSA number is.”
Ultimately, after being re-evaluated by his primary care doctor and then by a urologist, the Hall of Fame athlete found he had prostate cancer.
Additionally, he was shocked at the statistics he discovered. “The statistics are alarming,” he said. “In America, one of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. One of every six men will get prostate cancer. However, one in every 2.5 African American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.”
Upon finding out that he had prostate cancer, Haynes was given medical counsel on what steps he should take to eliminate the cancer. Only his wife, Gigi, knew of his condition at that time.
“At first, I didn’t tell anyone except my wife,” he revealed. “When I did tell people, angels came out all around me. People came out and continue to come out and give me support.”
At the time, Haynes was working full-time as NFL vice president of player and employee development in New York. However, faced with the difficult decision regarding his health, the Arizona State University graduate decided to relocate back to California to spend more time with his wife and children, while still working for the league on a part-time basis.
Haynes, 56, did not go through chemotherapy and radiation treatments; he took another approach. “I had a radical prostatectomy,” he said. “I had my prostate taken out. It helped me to re-examine what is important in my life. My family is out here. They deserve my time and attention.”
The Haynes family was one of the centers of attention at Relay for Life, hosted by Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge and his wife Brigid, who is a breast cancer survivor. “Mike is one of the nicest people you could ever meet,” said Brigid. “This event helps so many people, and we’re glad Mike is a part of it.”
Councilman LaBonge, who was Haynes’ football teammate at Marshall High, has been impacted by cancer through its impact on his three brothers who all had wives who died of cancer. “I have had people in my life who have lost their lives to the disease,” LaBonge said. “I feel fortunate that Bridgy and Michael are survivors. They are two beloved people in my life.”