A local Dundalk activist has sat with great company over the past two weeks, meeting with US representatives, and baseball’s “Iron Man” to discuss efforts to fight prostate cancer.
Kenny Kellner, Jr., a Patapsco High School graduate who currently lives in Essex, became an advocate for prostate cancer after his grandfather succumbed to the deadly disease. He told The Avenue News earlier this year that he never understood prostate cancer until his grandfather was diagnosed. He had a crash course while caring for his grandfather.
Kellner has gotten involved by joining an organization called ZERO, formed to stand up for men and their families impacted by prostate cancer and become a political force for a cure, according to the organization’s official website, www.zerocancer.org.
“[These last two weeks] have been overwhelming at times, and then seeing myself doing this as an advocate makes me feel proud,” Kellner told the Eagle this week. “I don’t want my grandfather’s memory going by the wayside.
“I actually want his memory to live out forever. I want to do something in his memory, and I think this is what I should be doing. I feel like my grandfather would want me to do this for other men. I don’t want other men going through what he went through.”
Kellner said that his message to men is simple – begin getting tested early, around the time a man reaches his 40s. His grandfather’s cancer wasn’t detected until it was too late, he said. He took care of his grandfather for three years while watching his decline, he said.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that 248,530 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and 34,130 will die from the disease. One in eight men are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lifetimes. Also according to ACS, six of every 10 cases are diagnosed in men 65 and older. The disease is more likely to develop in Black men and older adult men.
According to ZERO, the fight against prostate cancer was inspired by women’s fight against breast cancer. In 1996, according to the organization’s website, several groups of concerned patients, physicians, and advocates came together to create the National Prostate Cancer Coalition. Modeled after the National Breast Cancer Coalition, this new organization was formed to stand up for men and their families impacted by prostate cancer and become a political force for a cure.
Kellner grew up watching Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken, Jr. on the diamond. Last week, he had the opportunity to speak with Ripken – virtually. Every year, ZERO hosts an event called the ZERO Prostate Cancer Summit. This year’s event was held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
More than 25 years ago, Ripken set a new record for most consecutive games played (2,131), and reached 2,632 games before ending his streak, earning his reputation as the “iron Man” of Major League Baseball. Today, the Oriole great holds an accolade that is likely far greater than anything he accomplished in his 21-year career – prostate cancer survivor. Like Kellner, he is now an advocate who is speaking out.
“People look at him as if he’s invincible,” Kellner said about Ripken. “I know I do, so I was honestly shocked when I heard that he had prostate cancer.
“I actually felt down. When I hear about prostate cancer after losing my grandfather, it’s harder than before.”
Ripken said during the conversation, according to Kellner, that advocacy is the biggest thing needed right now in the fight against prostate cancer. He walked away that night feeling motivated. He has currently set up a fundraiser, and has set a goal to raise $1,000 for ZERO by the end of April. That will go a long way to support the battle, he said.
“All of that money goes towards families,” he said. “It goes towards helping them pay for medical bills, and the whole nine yards.”
Kellner said he is working on other initiatives to increase awareness about prostate cancer. He wrote a letter to County Executive John Olszewski, Jr., asking him to proclaim September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in Baltimore County. He has not yet received a response, but will not waver in accomplishing that mission, he said. He has sent a similar letter to Gov. Larry Hogan.
This fall, Kellner said, he will volunteer for the ZERO Prostate Cancer 5K, which is expected to be held on Sept. 24 in Towson.
“Just by people hearing about prostate cancer, or learning about it, it opens up a whole new world to them,” Kellner said.
On March 9, Kellner joined other ZERO advocates in virtual discussions with US representatives, including Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-2. Kellner had an active day, participating in five Zoom meetings over an 8-hour period. The purpose of the meetings were to discuss pathways to expand prostate cancer research and greater accessibility to treatment and education for veterans and active duty military personnel.
Currently, one in five male veterans are diagnosed with prostate cancer, as compared to one in eight men in the general US population. These diagnoses are linked to exposure to Agent Orange during the Korea War and the Vietnam War. It is also linked, however, to veterans from other eras.
According to ZERO, not every Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital offers the same access to equipment or providers. ZERO presented an idea for a “clinical pathway,” which can provide a plan for prostate cancer patients and their VA providers to navigate the VA system, and hopefully avoid delays in access while allowing veterans to take advantage of new treatment options, Kellner said.
According to ZERO, Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Florida, will introduce a bill in the coming weeks called the Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research Act. This bill will direct the VA to create a clinical pathway within the Veteran Health Agency (VHA) to standardize treatment options and improve outcomes for prostate cancer patients in the system. The House of Representatives passed this same bill last fall, but it did not pass through the legislative process before the previous Congress dismissed.