Third annual Prostate Cancer Awareness Night: Smashing success for awareness, early detection

The Barbara Ann Karmanos Institute’s third annual Prostate Cancer Awareness Night with the Detroit Tigers and McLaren Health Care, the official healthcare system of the Tigers, united hundreds of prostate cancer survivors and their loved ones from near and far. Cheering on the Detroit Tigers as they competed against the Kansas City Royals on June 20, 2023, Comerica Park was decorated with a blue theme, and fans raised blue Tigers foam fingers to promote prostate cancer awareness and support.

“In prostate cancer, there are specific challenges because it’s in an area that many men don’t want to talk about, and it affects them in many ways in having symptoms they don’t want to talk about,” said Elisabeth Heath, M.D., FACP, medical oncologist, leader of the Genitourinary Oncology Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) and the Hartman Endowed Chair for Prostate Cancer Research at Karmanos, said in a video shown to fans right before the pre-game ceremony.

“If we don’t talk about it, you’ll see me in an advanced stage, and I don’t want that. I want your family member or yourself to know that if you catch it early and treat it early, your chances of being around for a long, long time are far greater than if you don’t think about it, talk about it, and don’t ask.”

The Prostate Cancer Awareness Night honored hundreds of prostate cancer survivors, provided information regarding the disease, highlighted the importance of screening and early detection, and raised funds for prostate cancer research.

PAWS Visits Karmanos

Before the ballgame, PAWS, the official mascot of the Detroit Tigers, visited five prostate cancer patients at the Karmanos locations in Detroit and Farmington Hills. PAWS presented each patient with a “Prostate Cancer Awareness Night 2023” engraved blue bat to commemorate the upcoming event.

The honorees at the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit (right photo) included James Napper (left), Mark Zalewski (center) and Rodney Tucker (right). Gerald Underwood (left) and Joseph Finazzo (right) were the honorees at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at Lawrence and Idell Weisberg Cancer Center in Farmington Hills (left photo).

Batting Practice

The Tigers invited six prostate cancer survivors to batting practice before the game, including a meet and greet with a player. These men included (in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Kevin Batchelder
  • Douglas Cutler
  • Michael Dudley
  • Timothy Gilbert
  • Robert Pachla
  • Tim Szczesny
  • Ulysses Williams

Sharing His Story

Michael Dudley, a two-time cancer thriver from Southfield, shared his inspirational story at Comerica Park on WXYT 97.1 FM’s The Ticket, broadcasted in Southeast Michigan and on regional stations throughout Michigan and Toledo, Ohio.

Back in 2017, Dudley was diagnosed with colon cancer the same week that he was competing in his first triathlon, and later he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2021. With a nearly misdiagnosed case, Dudley’s original physician assured him that his slightly elevated PSA level was normal; however, he didn’t feel at ease with that response.

Turning to a second opinion at Karmanos Cancer Center, Dudley was evaluated by Isaac Powell, M.D., urologic oncologist and member of the Genitourinary Oncology MDT. Over the course of twelve months, Dudley and his two brothers were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Upon further examination and biopsy, the collaborative decision was made to surgically remove the prostate, again declaring him cancer-free. 

Being recognized at the Prostate Cancer Awareness Night was priceless to Dudley. He was presented with a signed baseball from the Bally’s Sports anchors, who were so moved by his inspiring story. In addition, Dudley reflected on the personal connections made with the Tigers players he met on the field of Comerica Park during batting practice.

“Prostate Cancer Awareness Night was a doorway of an opportunity to encourage African Americans to discuss cancer symptoms and treatment openly,” he said.

Karmanos Starting 9

The Karmanos Starting 9 featured prostate cancer survivors (in alphabetical order by last name):

One of the Karmanos Starting 9, Abraham Henry, flew from Texas to be part of this monumental ballgame. After moving to Houston, Henry - a born and raised Michigander - was diagnosed with prostate cancer; however, he was unsatisfied with his treatment options at his local cancer hospital. Having a sister-in-law employed at Karmanos, Henry decided to get a second opinion from the cancer experts in Detroit.

Under the care and direction of Jordan Maier, M.D., radiation oncologist at Karmanos’ Weisberg Cancer Center in Farmington Hills and member of the Genitourinary Oncology MDT, Henry received five radiation treatments in Michigan and continued with regular blood work every 90 days in Texas.

“From the start, Dr. Maier showed great compassion, even before I was his patient, and now, he faithfully checks to see how I’m doing – even from states away,” Henry reflected.

After his own experience and family history of prostate cancer, Henry strongly advocates for men’s prostate health and wellness by encouraging men to check their PSA levels regularly.

Henry noted, “Cancer screenings are so important because they increase your chances of survival. Real men get screened!”

First Pitch

Joe Cole was chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to kick off the game.

“As I walked onto the field, I thought about my three brothers who had passed and could not be there, and my parents, who I'm sure would have loved to see this experience. How blessed I was to have this honor to represent the prostate survivors,” Cole reflected.

He was grateful to be sitting in the stands beside his greatest fans – his wife and granddaughters. He expressed his appreciation for “this once-in-a-lifetime thrill” all because of Michael Cher, M.D., his urologic oncologist and member of the Genitourinary Oncology MDT, and the rest of the incredible team at Karmanos in Detroit.

The National Anthem

This year, the National Anthem was sung by a trio called The Dynasty, featuring Kevin Batchelder, Richard Nestle and Roger Blume. Batchelder is a prostate cancer survivor who received his care at both the Karmanos location in Detroit and at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Port Huron.

In-Stand Recognitions

Between innings, three Karmanos prostate cancer survivors participated in a trivia game and were publicly recognized before thousands of fans in attendance. Ken Swaneck (top left), treated in Detroit and Farmington Hills, Jim DeVilbiss (bottom left), treated at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at The Toledo Clinic Cancer Center in Maumee, Ohio, and Clark Lankey, Jr. (right), treated in Flint, were the three honored survivors.

Nominated by his nurse, Clark Lankey, Jr., 41, was diagnosed with prostate cancer six months after becoming a father to his beautiful baby girl. During the six months of chemotherapy, bone-strengthener shots, and testosterone blocker shots, Lankey’s fiancé and 6-month-old baby would attend every treatment and appointment. His fiancé and daughter were also with him at the game. Being at Comerica Park brought back sentimental memories for Lankey and his family.

“I haven’t been to a Tigers game since I was a kid. My grandpa used to sell peanuts at the original Tigers stadium, and I would go with him,” Lankey said. 

When PAWS approached Lankey at the game, he overflowed with tears of joy and pride to be sitting in the stands as a survivor. He received a “Team Karmanos” T-shirt at the event and returned for a follow-up the next week to have his care team at Karmanos sign it. He plans to present the T-shirt to the staff as a token of appreciation and gratitude at his next visit.

“The real heroes are Karmanos. Without them, I wouldn’t be here,” shared Lankey.

Early Detection Saves Lives

Second to skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, affecting roughly one in eight during their lifetime, and just behind lung cancer, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men.

“Most men diagnosed do not die – only 1 in 41 die from prostate cancer. This disease is most curable in its early stages, so I encourage those with a prostate to screen for this cancer and pay attention to the symptoms so we can treat it as early as possible,” urged Dr. Heath.

Karmanos, McLaren and the Detroit Tigers suggest that men talk with a healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of prostate cancer screening through a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test or a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE). Men should consider prostate screening at age 50 (age 45 for African Americans) if they are at average risk for prostate cancer. Those at higher risk may start screening at an earlier age. Visit for more information.

At Karmanos, the Genitourinary Oncology MDT includes surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, plastic surgeons, pharmacists, specialized nurse practitioners, dietitians, social workers, and genetic counselors. The team specializes in treating genitourinary cancers, including prostate cancer. Members share their expertise to create a customized treatment plan for each patient.

If you or someone you love is diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s essential to consult an oncologist or surgeon dedicated to researching and treating prostate cancer. Call 1-800-KARMANOS (800-527-6266) or request an appointment here.