Bill Buckley knows No. 12. It was the jersey number he wore for the Macon Whoopees during his 40 seconds of professional hockey experience.
Some athletes get called up to the big leagues for a proverbial “cup of coffee.” For Bill, it was an ice chip.
On Feb. 3, 1974, he skated onto the ice for a few fleeting seconds at the end of the game. The financially troubled team was short-handed, so he had to suit up. He was the Whoopees’ young assistant general manager. He hadn’t played hockey since pee-wee league.
Eleven days later, the team folded.
Five years ago, he donated his No. 12 “sweater” to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
So, yes, he knows No. 12. Like most sports-minded men, he can recite numbers and statistics. Guys can tell you how many home runs Chipper Jones has hit this season and the Atlanta Falcons’ record last year. They know their golf handicaps to the decimal point. They remember how many times Roger Federer has won the U.S. Open.
But ask a man his PSA number and you’re likely to get a head-scratching, one-syllable answer.
“I have found nobody is keeping score,” said Bill. “I was one of those people. I knew the scores and stats of hundreds of ball games, but I didn’t know my PSA number.”
PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen. The PSA blood test is used to screen men for prostate cancer.
PSA also stands for public service announcement. For the past six months, Bill has been a man on mission.
In January, it got very personal. He was at his home in rural Wilcox County when he received a call from his urologist. The doctor had plenty to say, but Bill only heard two words: prostate cancer.
His wife, Jan, was in the next room. “I went to tell her,” Bill said. “It was the longest walk of my life.”
He had surgery in March. The spring and summer that followed were marked with gratitude for both the power of prayer and the miracle of modern medicine.
It would have been easy for Bill, now 61, to count his blessings and selfishly pack them away with his story.
But he didn’t.
“God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle,” he said. “And the other part of that is he expects us to handle what he gives us.”
Bill’s ongoing crusade is to increase awareness among men older than 40 about the importance of prostate cancer screening. A PSA test raised the red flag high enough to save his own life. His pledge is to save another. And another. Maybe a dozen. Hundreds. Thousands.
Saturday’s second annual Macon Beer Festival, which features a “Pints for Prostates” campaign sponsored by the Rotary Club of Downtown Macon, will offer a free PSA blood test (a $75 value) as part of the $17.50 admission price.
The figures are staggering. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men in the U.S. behind lung cancer. More than 28,000 men die each year from it. That’s about 75 deaths a day.
Georgia is fourth in the nation in prostate cancer deaths. The numbers are particularly alarming in the African-American community, where men’s health problems often are not detected until late.
While one in every six guys will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, one in 36 will die of the disease. That’s the importance of early detection and timely treatment.
There are 2.5 million survivors.
Bill is one of them.
He has joined the Georgia Prostate Cancer Coalition. His goal is to organize a chapter in Macon, which would be the first in the state outside the Atlanta area.
It’s a group that is not looking to raise money to find a cure. It is all about raising awareness. The men wear small, light-blue pins on their lapels. They are the same design as the pink breast cancer ribbons. Soon, Georgia license plates will be available with the blue ribbon emblem.
Bill gets asked about his pin all the time. It’s an opportunity to inform and educate. Men can be stubborn. They don’t want to talk about subjects like impotence and incontinence. It’s embarrassing. They would much rather talk about last night’s baseball game.
Sometimes the best way to reach men is to let women be the messengers. So Bill seizes the opportunity to educate wives, girlfriends, mothers and daughters about the importance of an annual PSA test in the lives of their loved ones.
Bill is a brilliant communicator. I have known him for a long time. We co-authored a book on the Macon Whoopees in 1998. He is a former anchorman for WMAZ-TV and is national sales manager at Momar, a chemical company in Atlanta.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Bill is planning several trips to Macon to organize a local chapter. He is available to speak to civic clubs, churches and other organizations. He can be reached at email@example.com or (404) 354-1215.
No. 12 would love to hear from you. Check the scoreboard. Know your number.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.