He Conquered Cancer But Not Senate


Tampa Tribune - Sunday, April 14, 2002
Metro Section

  By Susan H. Thompson

Tampa banker vows to keep on
fighting for his prostate cancer
awareness bill.

Bob Samuels

  It's a subject many men are uncomfortable talking about, something that prostate cancer survivor Bob Samuels seeks to change.

A retired banker in Tampa, Samuels wants all men to know about prostate cancer.

After his 1994 diagnosis, he started the Tampa-based Florida Prostate Cancer Education Network as a resource for patients.

For the Legislature's 2002 session, Samuels crafted a bill to establish a prostate cancer education program at the Florida department of Health.

But the bill, the Prostate Cancer Awareness Act, didn't survive.

Samuels was stunned when it fizzled in the Senate during the session's final day.

"In my naiveness, I just thought being right was OK. We were told this was a white-hat issue," he said.

If passed, the bill would have required the Department of Health to start  an awareness campaign about prostate cancer and establish a prostate cancer advisory board.

Currently, the Health Department's awareness effort amounts to a leaflet distributed in county health departments, an agency spokesman said.

Samuels envisioned a program that would include billboards, public service announcements and, ideally, mobile medical vans to provide prostate exams.

A malignancy in a small gland of the male reproductive system, prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men.  An estimated 1 in 6 men develop the disease.

With a large elderly population, Florida has the nation's second-highest rate of prostate cancer cases.

Although early prostate cancer can occur without symptoms, a prostate-specific antigen blood test, known as a PSA can detect antibodies that signal abnormalities. Doctors also look for lumps through digital exams.

"The other key thing is the segment of the population which pays the highest price is African-American males," Samuels said.

Black men have a 50 percent higher rate of prostate cancer than other ethnic groups, yet "some of these guys are dying prematurely because they just didn't know they should go get tested," he said.

Prostate cancer survivors across the state collected 5,000 signatures on petitions for the awareness bill. Samuels found two sponsors, Rep. Ken Ltttlefield, R-Zephyrhills, and Sen. Bur Saunders, R-Cape Coral.

It passed the House, sailed through a Senate committee, then died in another committee.

To help the cause, Samuels brought a prostate cancer widow to Tallahassee to lobby legislators. He enlisted a Bradenton man who is dying from the disease to testify before committees, accompanied by a 16-year-old grandson.

But supporters said money issues stood in the way during a session when legislators sought to compensate for a #1 billion budget deficit.

"I realize this year was budget, budget, budget," said Carol Anderson of Fort Myers Beach, whose husband, Bill, died of prostate cancer in 1197.

Supporters estimated that an awareness program would require #2.5 million to start, Samuels said, but the state Health Department countered that $9 million was more realistic.

Also, in the House, an amendment was added that would have mandated an awareness program about arthritis.

"I thought it was a good fit," said Littlefield, the House sponsor and head of the House Health Promotions Committee.

Littlefield said he might try to resurrect the bill during a coming special budget session.

Meanwhile, at the state Health Department, there are plans to include prostate cancer in a new program that also addresses lung, skin and colorectal cancers, said agency spokesman Bill Parizek.

Samuels isn't giving up. He wants the awareness bill to become law.

"What we really need is a champion who will push the issue," he said.

"We need the Katie Couric of prostate cancer," added Samuels, referring to the NBC "Today" television show host's campaign for colon cancer awareness.

He plans to start working on a broader coalition.

"At the end of the day, this is all patient-driven," he said. "if we don't do it, nobody else will."



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