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Darryl Strawberry goes to bat for colon cancer screening here Former Yankee, Mets star recalls fighting disease twice

Darryl Strawberry knows a thing or two about the highs and lows of life.

The 47-year-old former baseball star, a perennial All Star Game selection, has abused drugs and alcohol, landed in jail a few times and survived two nightmarish struggles with colon cancer.

Now, the player popularly known as "Straw" is back in the spotlight -- healthy and speaking bluntly about the importance of regular colon cancer screening.

"I was running around the field in 1998 with a tumor in me the size of a grapefruit and didn't know it," he said Thursday at the Hauptman-Woodward Institute on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Strawberry visited Buffalo for an event organized by PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade association for brand-name drug companies.

Pharmaceutical industry representatives highlighted new medicines in development and the small but growing number of biotechnology businesses in Buffalo. The association, which took out a full-page ad in The Buffalo News and is conducting similar events in other cities, also presented its position on proposals under discussion in Congress as lawmakers debate health care reform.

Strawberry, who is best remembered for his stints with the New York Mets and Yankees, had a tumor and 24 inches of his colon removed in 1998 after being diagnosed with cancer at the close of the regular baseball season. He followed the surgery with a chemotherapy regimen described as a "nightmare."

"It was the hardest time of my life," he said of the once-a-week infusions that left him sick and weak for days.

Strawberry, playing for the Yankees at the time, recalled how he had ignored obvious symptoms. "I was losing weight and having constant stomach cramps. There was blood in my stool. But I didn't say anything. I was an athlete. You were supposed to play in pain," he said.

Then, in 2000, doctors removed another tumor and one of Strawberry's kidneys after his cancer recurred.

"I remember sitting in the hospital, looking out the window and crying. I knew I was in for another fight, and I didn't know how I would get through it," he said.

Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers. It will strike about 106,100 Americans and cause nearly 50,000 deaths this year, according to the American Cancer Society. If caught early, the disease is often curable.

Thursday's event also publicized a pharmaceutical industry report on 680 new medicines in development by biotechnology companies in New York State, including 28 compounds from five companies based in Buffalo or with a presence in the region.

Ken Johnson, a senior vice president at PhRMA, tied the report to health reform, warning against any proposals that might inhibit drug research.

He said the pharmaceutical industry has committed to helping the federal government save $80 billion over 10 years through such steps as reducing drug prices to some Medicare recipients.

It's not clear what the industry received in return. But health reform measures so far do not include proposals opposed by PhRMA to give the federal government the authority to negotiate Medicare drug prices or to require drug companies to pay rebates on medications sold to people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

"We're still worried about measures that could drive up the $80 billion, an amount calibrated to minimize the effect on jobs in the industry," Johnson said. "We don't want to trade jobs for someone else's health insurance. We don't want to drive drug research and development overseas."

The industry also wants 12 to 14 years of market protection for biologic drugs before allowing less-expensive generic versions to be sold. Unlike traditional drugs made of chemicals, the cutting-edge biologics use living cells to treat diseases.

Congress has been debating a range of time frames for proposed legislation on biologics.

Advocates of a seven-year period, including AARP, contend that seven years is sufficient for companies to recoup research and development costs. They also say a shorter path to cheaper generics is needed because of the staggering expense of brand-name biologics, some of which can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com

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