Sutton does part to fight kidney cancer

Sutton does part to fight kidney cancer

NEW YORK -- The lesson hit home early in Don Sutton's career, when he was with the Dodgers. His competitive nature sometimes sabotaged his concentration, such as one game when he became unglued after giving up a three-run home run in the first inning.

"I wanted to come in and dismantle the clubhouse and break everything all the way up the tunnel," Sutton recalled. "Our pitching coach was Red Adams. I absolutely adored him and still do. He's responsible for my being in the Hall of Fame.

"He sat down and said, 'Now if you break every light in this dugout and kick over the water cooler, is it going to take that '3' off the board?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'But if you get control of things, can you influence what happens in the next eight innings? You can't remove those three runs, but you can make sure the next eight innings go the way you want them.' I never forgot that."

That is the same approach Sutton takes as the national spokesperson for the Stay In The Game program for kidney cancer awareness that is being launched this week. Sutton, who has been living with the disease for six years, has teamed up with the Kidney Cancer Association, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals and Onyx Pharmaceuticals in a program designed to empower kidney cancer patients and their loved ones to manage their disease effectively.

"That baseball analogy applies," Sutton said. "If you're diagnosed with cancer, you're diagnosed with cancer. Now what do we do next to make the rest of life as normal as possible and enjoyable?"

Sutton's mission is to draw attention to coping with the disease. He was at the midtown offices of WeissComm Partners here Monday to announce the opening of the program's Web site, www.stayingame.com.

"I don't want to say it's a pep rally," Sutton said. "We're not just cheerleaders. We want to encourage people who have kidney cancer, to point them to programs and people that might help them. We want to let them know that life doesn't end when you're diagnosed. You just live it a little differently. We want those people to stay positive, to stay confident. Don't hide under the stairs. Keep on living. The rules have changed a little, but you have reason to live as you always have, maybe more so."

Sutton, 63, won 324 games over 23 Major League seasons and posted the eighth-highest career strikeout total of 3,574. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998, the year after his daughter, Jackie, was born prematurely and weighed less than two pounds. Now 11, she is an example of how health obstacles can be overcome.


"If you're diagnosed with cancer, you're diagnosed with cancer. Now what do we do next to make the rest of life as normal as possible and enjoyable?"
-- Don Sutton

Her father lost his left kidney to cancer surgery in 2002. Three years later, part of a lung had to be removed as well. Sutton has continued working full-time as a broadcaster for the Washington Nationals while taking Nexavar, a small-molecule drug approved for the treatment of advanced kidney and liver cancer developed and marketed by the Bayer and Onyx companies.

"I'm living proof that it's working," Sutton said. "I have had to make lifestyle changes, but I still work out six days a week and cover 140 games a year. The medicine is not without side effects. My hands and feet are very sensitive. It elevates blood pressure and disrupts the digestive system. It gives me a whole new meaning to waste management. Everybody I work with knows that there is a possibility that I might have to excuse myself for five minutes."

There is no specific test for kidney cancer, which is diagnosed often in routine examinations where any abnormality may surface, as was Sutton's. He said that he had felt no symptoms and didn't learn until after he was diagnosed that four people in his immediate family had kidneys removed, so heredity may be a factor.

There are approximately 208,000 people living with the disease worldwide, including 37,000 in the United States. More than 100,000 people globally, including 12,500 Americans, die from the disease annually. Sutton believes the Stay In The Game program can keep patients from feeling as if they have a death sentence.

"It happens to say cancer survivor behind my name, but I'm still working and living my life with everything I want to do," Sutton said. "I owe it to some terrific physicians and some great research. It's not about me. It's about what happened to me that we want to use to direct people and help them find some answers. Log on to the Web site. Ask questions. We're there to support you, we're there to steer you toward people who can help. Take charge of your life. Surround yourself with good people."

Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.