Former Buffalo Bills star player Booker Edgerson wants to help men beat prostate cancer by crushing the stigma they have with being tested and talking about the disease.
A two-time prostate cancer survivor, Edgerson, 76, returned to his Quad-City roots Thursday to bring the awareness campaign, Cure the Blue!, to Davenport. Meeting with reporters at Joe's Barber Shop, 1505 Harrison St., Davenport, the Rock Island native discussed the new initiative by the Buffalo Bills Alumni Foundation.
"I've watched the pink (breast cancer awareness) program. You women do a fantastic job of getting the word out, but we men don't get it," he said, referring to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure efforts.
Edgerson, who chairs Cure the Blue, said the grassroots effort is similar to Komen, in that it is aimed at raising awareness and funding for research.
"So many men are in denial," said Edgerson, who first was diagnosed in 1996 and again two years ago. "I was feeling fatigued, but I was president of the Buffalo Bill Alumni Association ... I was waking up tired for a couple of weeks when I realized something was wrong, and it was more than me just running all around (and working hard)."
Invited to Joe's Barber Shop by owner Joe McLemore, also a prostate cancer survivor, Edgerson sees the National Football League as the perfect vehicle for taking the message about prostate cancer to men. "Who plays the game — men?" he said, adding that it is grandfathers, fathers, brothers and friends who need to heed the warning.
Although he hopes the effort will eventually spread nationwide, Edgerson said Cure the Blue is reaching out in western New York to the business community. "We're trying to get businessmen to talk about prostate cancer, but a lot don't want to come out and talk about it ... but their words would do more good."
He added that he did not hesitate to put his own face to the campaign "because I lived it."
McLemore, 71, a longtime barber, was pleased to be hosting Edgerson, whose football career he had followed when he a young boy in the Quad-Cities. "This is one of my idols," McLemore said.
Asked if he preaches about getting screened to his customers, McLemore said "I'd say anyone 35 and up (I tell to get tested). It's a hard sell. Most don't respond to it, especially African Americans." He credited his wife, Shirley, for pushing him to seek medical care that led to his diagnosis nine years ago at age 63.
Edgerson, who is on a regular visit to see his Quad-City relatives, said he particularly worries about prostate cancer among black males and minorities. "Economically, a lot of them don't have the money or insurance for testing."
Citing statistics from the American Cancer Society, he said 221,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. But thanks to early detection and treatment, "we now have 3 million men who have prostate cancer and still surviving. Right now there is no prevention for prostate cancer."
Edgerson was a member of the Buffalo Bills AFC Championship teams in 1964-65. He said the Buffalo chapter of the Retired Players of the NFL Players Association hope to take its awareness mission across the NFL to its alumni chapters. The program also is trying to encourage hospitals nationwide to offer free, community screenings for men — an effort the Buffalo Bills alumni launched about four years ago in partnership with a couple of Buffalo-area hospitals.
"Pink is synonymous with breast cancer; we'd like to see blue be synonymous with prostate cancer," Edgerson said.