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