"I want to use the opportunity to help other people who struggle with that decision and encourage other people to go get their regular exams, get their tests,” the baseball Hall of Famer said

By Rachel DeSantis
August 20, 2020 01:50 PM
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Cal Ripken Jr.
| Credit: M. Von Holden/FilmMagic

Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. revealed his private battle with prostate cancer on Thursday, announcing he was diagnosed in February and has since made a full recovery.

The Baltimore Orioles legend, who will turn 60 on Monday, shared details of his experience with reporters on a Zoom call, and said he’s speaking out now in order to raise awareness, according to MASN Sports.

Ripken said he went for a routine medical checkup, and doctors noticed his PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, was “inching up a little.” PSA is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland, and the blood level of PSA is often higher in men with prostate cancer, according to Cancer.gov.

He visited a urologist just as a precaution, and when further tests came back “iffy,” Ripken underwent a biopsy in mid-February, which revealed his diagnosis, he said.

“It was in the early stages,” the former shortstop said. “They say it’s a slow-moving cancer, and you don’t have to make a really quick decision and all those things. The answer to do surgery was, it was the right decision to make and that was the easy part of it. But then getting yourself ready to do it was another one.”

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Because his diagnosis came just as coronavirus was taking hold in the United States, the athlete said he made moves to go under the knife as quickly as possible, before the hospitals would suspend elective surgeries.

“Just as quickly as you make the decision to try and get used to the fact that you’re doing it, I went in early morning and had the surgery, walked around the hospital [at] 3:30 in the afternoon, and went home at 6:30 that night,” he told reporters.

The 19-time All-Star said his March surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital was “very successful,” and that he did not experience any negative side effects. Ripken’s cancer was caught early enough that it did not spread in his body, and he did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.

“The good news is it has a real happy ending,” he said, adding that a three-month test confirmed his PSA was undetectable. “The cancer was all contained in the prostate. They did a pathology report afterward and confirmed that was the case.”

Ripken — who lost his Orioles coach father Cal Ripken Sr. to lung cancer in 1999 — said he initially wanted to keep his diagnosis under wraps due to the stigma attached, which he said felt “almost like there’s something wrong with you.”

But after his recovery, he changed his tune, and now wants others to learn from his experience and make it a point to get regular physicals and avoid putting off routine tests.

“The reason I’m letting it slip out now is I want to use the opportunity to help other people who struggle with that decision and encourage other people to go get their regular exams, get their tests,” he said. “Men, for some reason, usually tend to put something off medically. We don’t really think it’s a big deal. You convince yourself that it’s something else. But I was able to react really quickly, and if you do catch it early, your chances and odds are really good that you can get it taken care of and resume your life exactly where you were.”

The earlier prostate cancer is caught, the more likely it is for men to get successful treatment, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The disease has a five-year survival rate of nearly 100 percent.

Ripken retired from Major League Baseball in 2001 after 21 seasons and after breaking the record for longest stretch of consecutive games ever played, which helped earn him the nickname “Iron Man.”