My alma mater, Houston's University of St. Thomas, may be where my cancer began due to my own poor lifestyle choices. Now it's hosting a men's basketball game against Texas College Feb. 23 as the first annual Celts for Blue Cure, a game to raise awareness of prostate cancer and promote cancer prevention.
Why use a college setting to focus on a so-called "old man's disease"? The truth is, prostate cancer can strike or its impetus can start at any age, including college age.
A graduate of the university, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago at the young age of 35. Since then I've launched the Blue Cure Foundation, the men's side of women's "pink" movement for breast cancer. With help from lifestyle improvements, I've also kept my cancer localized and at bay.
Now I can honestly say my college years were a turning point in my adopting bad dietary habits. Rushing through college life heedlessly of my health, I had a daily diet of pizza, burgers, tacos, cola and beer, which led to my ballooning weight -- 29 percent body fat -- and much harm to my health. I agree with my doctors that, with no family history of cancer, my poor diet and poor coping with stress likely played a role in my getting prostate cancer.
Recently my alma mater published a profile of me, highlighting my raising prostate cancer awareness and encouragement of healthier lifestyle habits through my work with Blue Cure. With half of American men and a third of American women being diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, now is the time for college students to consider their future health.
Celts for Blue Cure won't be just another cancer awareness event. It will bring a message for action aimed directly at students. That message? Diet and lifestyle can help you avoid getting prostate cancer.
Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, believes it's vital to present such a message to college-age students.
"The younger that people can start to adopt healthier lifestyles, the better the long-term health benefits," he says. "In fact, it is much easier to make the changes at a younger age than after decades of living with a bad habit.
"Most of the chronic illnesses our society is struggling with, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, come from years and years of unhealthy living. Our best hope is if college students and young adults start leading healthier lifestyles."
That includes not smoking; eating a mainly plant-based diet of whole foods with limited salt, fat and sugar intake; exercising regularly; and managing stress, Dr. Cohen says.
My hope is to take this message to other college campuses across the country. Cancer prevention doesn't have to wait until your 30s or 40s. It can start much earlier.
But remember: While we can raise awareness of prostate cancer, unless actions go behind it, awareness alone is meaningless.
That's why we must advocate more cancer prevention on college campuses, and I'm willing and ready to do it.
We must get college students to think about diet, lifestyle and even activism, such as demanding their campuses carry more fresh fruits and vegetables -- making healthier options more readily available -- and preferably offer food that's organic and free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
In short, we must educate those already being educated about the most important learning of all: how to vastly impact and enhance their health at a young age, thus ensuring they have a chance for a bright future.
Follow Gabe Canales on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GabeCanales