NEW YORK YANKEES MANAGER JOE TORRE
his New York Yankees struggled to hold onto first place in their division
during one of the team's worst Septembers in history, Joe Torre took time
out from his hectic schedule to call. He didn't want to talk about the
Yankee ball team he's been managing for five seasons, but about his prostate
cancer, and of the tremendous help he received from his wife, Ali, in
dealing with all the complex issues he faced immediately after being diagnosed
in early 1999. (For those of you who don't follow baseball, the Yankees
eventually came out of their late-summer funk weeks later and went on
to win their third consecutive World Series title.)
"Unfortunately, heart disease runs in my family,"
says the 60-year-old Torre, whose brother Frank received a heart transplant
in 1996. "So in February, 1999, just like I do every year, I took my series
of medical tests. Only this time, my cardiologist told me that my PSA
level appeared to be a bit elevated and I should have it checked out again
when I got down to Florida for spring training, which I did. My PSA came
back at 4.5 ng/ml and my free PSA was extremely low. A biopsy that was
performed shortly after came back positive. I was told that I had an aggressive
Woman with a mission
"Up until the final biopsy test result came in, Ali
was in her own form of denial, in that she hoped that I didn't have cancer.
But once she knew for sure, she was on my case. She is the one who did
all the researching. She went on the Internet for background medical information.
She bought all the books on the subject of prostate cancer and later came
up with a written list of questions we needed answered by the doctor to
help us in the tough decision-making process. By the time we eventually
went to see the urology specialist in St. Louis, we were extremely well
prepared for our appointment.
"I was numb when I got the cancer diagnosis and I
don't know what I would have done if Ali hadn't been there to get me through
it all. It later became very clear to me that you need a spouse or a good
friend to be there for you, to keep you on level ground and to give you
hope. Otherwise, saddled with the cancer diagnosis, it becomes so easy
to think of your cancer as some sort of a dark hole, and that there is
no way out for you.
"Ali and I are very lucky to have each other. I don't
think I've ever felt closer to her than I did after I was diagnosed. One
of the reasons we want to talk about the "couple effect" of prostate cancer
is to encourage men not to shut their spouses out after they've been diagnosed
but instead to work with them in fighting this disease. Your wife is your
partner in the truest sense of the word. After my own diagnosis, I found
that I began thinking a lot of negative things. Talking about it with
Ali, however, made it less morbid. And then there was a tremendous amount
of medical information to absorb. A lot of it was conflicting and confusing.
But I knew if I missed something or didn't really understand it, Ali would
be there to talk it over with me.
A winning strategy
"So many people have asked me how I dealt with my
prostate cancer. Well, I knew for sure as a baseball player for 17 years
and then as a manager of pro teams that I had to start practicing what
I preached. This basically boiled down to the fact that if you have a
bad day or week, and if you or your team are not doing particularly well,
you need to find effective ways to deal with it. You must become proactive
and get into the attack mode, doing everything you can to get answers.
"This approach is what I had to bring to my own cancer
treatment. What scared me initially, in addition to my cancer, was that
I didn't have the answers I needed. It certainly was a very difficult
time emotionally. I was a mess, my blood pressure had skyrocketedall
from being scared about the cancer and what I had to do about it.
"When we finally got to St. Louis, the specialist
went over all my test results in detail and eventually said that, based
on the aggressiveness of the cancer and my age, he'd recommend that I
have a radical prostatectomy. Ali and I listened as he described the intricacies
of the surgery and what my post-operative experience would be like. Hearing
his description helped to calm me down enormously.
"The ultimate decision about what to do, the doctor
said, was mine to make. He got up and headed for the door, saying he would
leave us alone for a while to make that decision. Ali and I sat together
and discussed the pros and cons of the various treatment options. We finally
decided that surgery, with its strong chance for cure and limited side
effects, was what we wanted to do.
"My surgery proceeded without any complications and
the specialist said it had been successful. In addition to getting all
the cancer out, he was also able to save both nerves on the prostate that
control sexual function. Back home from the hospital, I had some post-operative
problems with incontinence but they cleared up very quickly. One thing
I really noticed after the surgery, however, was a distinct energy loss.
I felt that the fatigue came from a combination of factors, which included
the physical trauma of the surgery, having the urinary catheter in for
three weeks, and finally just the psychological fatigue that came from
knowing that I had cancer. Put them all together and you get pretty tired.
"People often ask me if I made any changes in my
diet after my cancer diagnosis. Since heart disease runs in my family,
I have always been conscious about eating healthful, lowfat meals. But
since Ali and I had read about the possible effects of nutrition on prostate
cancer, we consulted nutritionists after my surgery to find ways of replacing
all the cholesterol-laden foods still in our diet. We were given tasty
recipes that were low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in phytochemicals.
I also decided to extend my nutritional changes to the snacks I eat in
the dugout. During the sixth inning of every game I have a soy shake and
throughout the game I will drink anywhere from six to eight cups of iced
green tea. Both are supposed to play a preventive role against prostate
cancer and since I like the taste, it's not a problem.
"Regular exercise was part of my recovery program.
I'm a believer in the power of exercise so I was religious about the walking
routine I followed daily. I have to admit, though, sometimes I worked
out too rigorously in the early days and had to back off in order to recover.
"With the 1999 major league baseball season in full
swing during my recovery period, I was anxious about getting back to the
team as soon as I was able. When to do this was left completely up to
me by our team owner. Managing the team is a 7-day-a-week job with many
late nights, and it takes a certain level of stamina to keep up the demanding
pace. If I worked a 9-to-5, 5-day-a-week job, I think I could have gone
back to work much earlier than I did because I could have rested up on
the weekends and recovered in time for work the following Monday. Baseball
doesn't offer that luxury.
"The most difficult time came near the end of my
recovery, when I was feeling pretty good during the day. But then I routinely
found myself nodding off at about 10 pm. I had to be realistic. If I had
been back managing the team, I would have been nodding off like that in
the dugout in the sixth inning of a game. To do the job right, I needed
to be able to stay awake until at least one or two o'clock in the morning,
so I decided to hold off my return to the Yankees until I could do that.
Finally, two months after my surgery, I was back in the Yankee dugout.
Energy-wise, I was fine and could do my work without a problem."
A spouse's perspective
Joe passed the phone to Ali, who told about her father's
successful prostate cancer surgery 12 years earlier and how it had helped
to prepare her for her husband's upcoming ordeal. "When Joe told me he
had cancer, I was sad because of all the mental and physical anguish I
knew that he would have to go through. There were many dark moments for
Joe after his diagnosis and in the time prior to his decision to have
the surgery. I could see the anxiety and stress he was under. However,
once he made the decision to go forward with the surgery, he felt much
better. His surgeon and the hospital staff made the procedure such a positive
experience for him that it relieved a great deal of his stress.
"Prostate cancer is a difficult experience to go
through. Although the prostate cancer was first and foremost about my
husband's life, it would be the two of us who would have to fight this
disease, both on our own and as a couple. One thing every spouse needs
to do is to educate herself about prostate cancer. Get all the information
you can so you are on the same page as your doctor and can ask intelligent
"Communication is critically important, also. Even
though he may never verbalize it to you, understand that your man is going
through an extremely emotional time, with so many conflicting and oftentimes
dark thoughts racing through his mind throughout the waking hours. Of
course, you will console him as best you can. But perhaps just as important,
you need to communicate and tell him exactly how you feel emotionally
because of his diagnosis. Tell him of your own fears and your hopes for
"Since the day that I finally sat down with Joe and
opened up to him, telling him how lousy I felt because of his cancer diagnosis,
I felt that we made great strides. This was the ice-breaker that let us
talk freely about what he and I were going through and it allowed us to
make plans for handling our problems. Prostate cancer is a long journey
and we knew we were going to have to confront some intimate issues, including
possible erectile dysfunction and incontinence.
"What also proved to be very important for us was
an effective and extensive support system. I was lucky enough to have
my sisters, parents, and a wonderful group of friends who were there for
me when I needed to cry on someone's shoulder. Having support, whether
from your loved ones, or from a prostate cancer support group such as
US TOO! or Man To Man, allows you to feel less alone in this truly dark
time. Outside support allows you to vent your feelings, to zero in on
what's really important, and offers you the necessary arena for solving
Johns Hopkins Prostate Bulletin
|This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not replace or amend professional medical advice. Unless otherwise stated and credited, the content of Phoenix5 (P5) is by and the opinion of and copyright © 2000 Robert Vaughn Young. All Rights Reserved. P5 is at <http://www.phoenix5.org>. P5's policy regarding privacy and right to reprint are at <www.phoenix5.org/infopolicy>.