- Written by Megan Joyce Megan Joyce
As a 12-season linebacker and defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Robin Cole was no stranger to, well, tackling problems head on.
And though he hasn’t played with the NFL since the late 1980s, Cole is still harnessing his commandeering spirit to take on an epidemic in men’s health: prostate cancer.
It’s an issue that has touched him deeply on multiple personal levels. Cole’s father, Obediah Cole, passed away from metastasized prostate cancer at age 50.
But the family link with prostate cancer extends further and wider; its malignant fingers stretch back through the Cole family tree to at least Cole’s grandfather. Cole’s father, Obediah, and several of his father’s brothers succumbed to the cancer, which has also touched Cole’s own brothers—and Cole himself.
Cole was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004. He was 49. He underwent surgery and remains cancer-free, but since then he has lost two brothers to the disease. In 2006 Cole founded the Pittsburgh-based Obediah Cole Foundation, named for his late father and dedicated to raising much-needed awareness for the cancer that kills 30,000 men each year—which Cole ruefully calls “the best-kept secret in the world.”
According to the foundation’s website (www.obcolefoundation.org), 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. African-American men have the highest incidence of prostate cancer in the world, and their mortality rate is twice that of Caucasian men.
“We don’t have a serious voice for prostate cancer,” Cole said. “Nobody’s out there. The doctors are saying it, but a doctor doesn’t lead a cause like that. Somebody off the street has to do that, somebody who’s gone through a lot.”
Representatives from the Obediah Cole Foundation—including Robin Cole—attend more than 20 health fairs per year, often partnering with local doctors and hospitals to distribute vouchers for men to receive a free prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.
“When [the foundation] first began to raise money, it was for three things: to bring about awareness, to educate people about prostate cancer, and also to do free blood screenings.”
Although it is one of the most diagnosed cancers in men, second only to nonfatal skin cancer, prostate cancer hits its victims early, often in their 40s and early 50s and before cancer is on most men’s medical radar.
Cole recommends all men start getting a PSA blood test at age 40—and in their 30s if they have a family history. He also urges men not to wait until they are symptomatic to seek testing; he lost an uncle and a brother that way.
Prostate cancer usually has no symptoms in its early stages. Later on, symptoms often include frequent and painful urination, erectile dysfunction, and discomfort when sitting (caused by an enlarged prostate).
Once the cancer has spread, men frequently experience pain in the hips, shoulders, thighs, or other bones; fatigue; weight loss; and swelling in the legs or feet.
The five-year survival rate for prostate cancer detected in its early stages in nearly 100 percent; that rate drops to 28 percent if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
“If my father’s twin had gotten checked, he’d have probably still have been living, but he didn’t do it until he had symptoms,” Cole said. “With prostate cancer, if you wait for symptoms, a lot of times it’s too late: You’re in stage 3 or stage 4.”
The Obediah Cole Foundation is working statewide currently, but as funding and awareness grow, Cole hopes to expand the foundation’s reach across the country. Robin Cole will be joining the Epic MEN’S Expo from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at the York Expo Center’s Memorial Hall West.
Brought to you by OLP Events, the Epic MEN’S Expo will comprise more than 50 exhibitors—businesses, organizations, and services covering the multifaceted lives of modern men.
The expo’s many demonstrations and appearances will include ESPN 92.7’s late-night talk show host Freddie Coleman; tournament bass angler Jonathan Coholich; beer, wine, and cider sampling; a denim fashion show by Men’s Wearhouse; live cigar-rolling and tattoo demos; a golf-ball hitting net and analyzer; food and craft-beer pairing; and more.
Cole plans to use his time at the Epic MEN’S Expo to raise Central Pennsylvania’s awareness of prostate cancer and the importance of early screening.
“My goal is to take it to the people,” Cole said. “For the rest of my life, I am going to take prostate cancer to the people, and my goal is to start with Pennsylvania. We’re going to wake up Pennsylvania, and then we’re going to wake up the rest of this nation.”
For more information on the Obediah Cole Foundation, visit www.obcolefoundation.org.
Advance guest registration ($5 value) for the Epic MEN’S Expo and general information are available at www.EpicMensExpo.com.