By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider
The name Mike Haynes may not be fresh in the minds of today’s generation of football fans, but in the golden years of the game this lockdown cornerback was nothing short of an icon. Haynes’s unrivaled list of accomplishments on the playing field spans fourteen seasons split evenly between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders, and it did not take him long to muster the courage to make an impact on the field. Now a survivor of prostate cancer, he is still continually making a difference in the lives of those around him.
As the seventh overall draft pick by the Patriots in 1976, the insanely athletic, 6’3” defensive back combined his quickness and competitive edge to be selected for the Pro Bowl as a rookie—the first of five consecutive nods to the team, and nine in total.
His ambitious mindset and production as a one-on-one cornerback made him feel football was not a battle against any particular player, but something more. Instead he focused solely on his preparation and technique to play his hardest regardless of who was lined up across from him. He said that this allowed him to be the best version of himself.
But after a career that lent him the opportunity to be an NFL Rookie of the Year, Super Bowl XVIII champion and a Hall of Fame cornerback, he would find a different version of himself—this time in an arena that he knew nothing about.
2008 was a challenging year in the life of a man who had conquered so many foes. He had achieved at the highest level of his craft and seemed nearly invincible. Nothing could shake him except three words: “You have cancer.”
“My life felt like it was taking a step in a direction that wasn’t going to be good,” he said.
But it would turnout to be just the opposite. It would guide him blindly into his life’s mission.
As a Hall of Fame inductee in 1997 Haynes was invited to attend the first ever cancer-screening campaign at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. The Urology Care Foundation partnered with the NFL to do screenings in former football players and at the time Haynes was working for the NFL as the Vice President of Player and Employee Development.
He went to check on the screening program to see how it was running and some workers told him that he should try it because it might encourage other men to get involved.
“It’s a simple blood test. What’s the big deal?” Haynes thought.
They took blood and said that they would call him if there was anything to discuss. Just thirty minutes later he heard his name echo through the room.
The doctor began interrogating Haynes, asking if prostate cancer ran in his family, and shared that one in every six men would be diagnosed in their lifetime. The doctor also was intrigued by the former player’s prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which had an abnormally high reading. Haynes admitted that he had never heard of PSA or been questioned like this before.
“I felt totally ignorant. I knew nothing about prostate cancer,” Haynes said. “Being an African American male I was more likely to get the disease than the general population. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that it ran in families, and I’m pretty sure my grandfather died of prostrate cancer.”
A biopsy was ordered and they took twelve core samples right from his prostate, six from each side of the urethra. Cancer was found in nine of the twelve places checked.
With his wife at his side and his life and his future dimming before him he grew numb to everything else that the doctor would say in that meeting.
“My wife was a real champion in all of this,” he said. “She immediately started reading a book by renowned urologist [Peter] Scardino. I was shocked, she read the whole thing and was like a doctor, knew all about the disease, all of the terms and treatment options.”
Now Haynes talks about prostate cancer with different groups for a living as a spokesman for the Urology Care Foundation. When he was diagnosed, the foundation had a huge interest in helping him. He learned about various treatment options and connected to others in the prostate cancer community. Speaking with other survivors, he gained confidence that was he would be okay.
“Men have this disease but they don’t talk about it. I really did have negative thoughts that it wasn’t going to work out as well as it has,” he said. “When I finally started talking about it, that was probably the best thing that I ever did. If it runs in your family, you need to know that. That little bit of information might save your life.”
Relying on advancements in technology and the support and advice of his wife, Haynes decided on a radical prostatectomy, which is a complete removal done by robotic procedure. He was blessed to have caught the disease before it became something inoperable. After one surgery he heard the words, “We got it all. You are cancer free.”
Haynes says he was blessed to have garnered the support of others around professional football, and not have to tackle this thing alone. He has worked with other former players and fellow Hall-of-Famers like Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen, Tony Dorsett, Chris Carter and Michael Irvin to raise awareness. He was even able to enlist the help of NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell in putting together a thirty-second public service announcement that played during last year’s Super Bowl. He has been a part of satellite media tours around the country and believes that talking more about it will breed a stronger culture around treating the disease and searching for a cure.
More men are going to get prostate cancer than women that are going to get breast cancer. Every man has heard of breast cancer and every man knows a symptom of breast cancer. But most men do not even know where the prostate is. They don’t know what it does, and they don’t know a symptom of prostate cancer. Haynes is campaigning to change that and challenging men across the country to win their one-on-one with the disease, one treatment, one diagnosis and one family at a time.
For more information about prostate cancer and Mike Haynes’ campaign, visit www.KnowYourStats.org.