Beating cancer Robinson's biggest win

Defeating cancer Robinson's greatest victory

WASHINGTON -- During his 50 years in Major League Baseball, Frank Robinson has accomplished a lot, from winning the Most Valuable Player Award in each league to becoming the first African-American to manage a big-league team.

But perhaps Robinson's biggest achievement occurred in 1999, when he defeated prostate cancer. It was the same the year that Yankees manager Joe Torre was diagnosed with the same illness. While Torre received a lot of publicity and get-well wishes around the United States, Robinson decided to take a different route. Robinson didn't want anyone to know about the problem he faced.

"That's the way I wanted it. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me. I didn't want people running up to me every day and asking me how I was," Robinson said. "It was something that happens to a lot of people in this country and around the world. I happened to be one of them. I was thankful and fortunate that I caught it early. I didn't want the spotlight shining on me."

Robinson said that he realized that something was wrong when he had problems urinating, but he didn't connect it to having prostate cancer. He went to see his physician, who noticed that Robinson's prostate was enlarged but saw no sign of cancer. Robinson's doctor, in fact, gave him medication to solve his bladder problems, and Robinson felt fine after that.

"The doctor said, 'We'll keep an eye on [the prostate]. If the level goes above this number, then we'll do something,'" Robinson said.

After a couple of checkups, cancer was discovered in Robinson's prostate. Fortunately, it was detected early. His doctor gave him three options -- have surgery, treat it with medicine or just ignore it. In fact, the doctors indicated that Robinson may die from something else before he'd ever die of prostate cancer. But Robinson declined to take that chance and opted to have surgery at The USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles. He then took a small amount of chemotherapy just as a precaution.

"The doctor said I didn't have to have chemotherapy, but it was just as an insurance-type thing. I had a low dosage for six weeks," Robinson said.

Robinson, 70, has been in great shape since the surgery, and, thanks to his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Nichelle, Robinson watches what he eats and occasionally works out.

"My wife and daughter are avid workout people, and they are after me all the time. I'm not as into it as they are, but I try to keep myself in pretty good shape," Robinson said.

Robinson strongly advises that people get full physicals at least twice a year and not be afraid to find out if something is wrong with their prostate. Robinson said that all they need to do is have a Prostate-Specific Antigen test.

"A lot of people don't want to know if they do have it. That's the wrong approach," Robinson said. "Death is going to come to all of us, but we don't have to help it along. Prostate cancer is one of the easiest cancers to cure if it's caught in time. With the medical research and the advanced medicine today, why not take advantage of it? All you have to do, on a regular-type basis, is get your checkups. The quality of life is unbelievable."

Since the surgery, Robinson has kept busy. He was the vice president of on-field operations for Major League Baseball for two years and has managed the Nationals/Expos for the last five.

"I have a peace of mind. I'm not worried about my prostate because my PSA tests are just fine," Robinson said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.