For one prostate cancer survivor, it’s all about conversation, personal connections

Francis Hafler, surrounded by his daughter Tiffany, son Gabriel and granddaughter Chloe, 12

Francis Hafler, surrounded by his daughter Tiffany, son Gabriel and granddaughter Chloe, 12

“I’m a conversationalist. I just walk up to people and start talking to them,” says Francis Hafler of Detroit.

He starts at the beginning. “I was born in the south in 1950.”

Hafler grew up about two blocks from the water in Pensacola, Fla., where the sand is pure white and the water is emerald green. He was No. 8 of 10 kids – seven boys, three girls. His mother did domestic work and his father worked on a fishing boat and as an ice man. Every Tuesday and Wednesday you could see the Blue Angels from the nearby naval base soaring through the sky.

In 1969, Hafler moved to Michigan to live with a friend. He found work at Ford Motor Co. on the ore carrying ships at the Rouge Factory. He got married and had six kids.

And then cancer hit.

“I kept hearing at a certain age black males need to get their prostate checked. So I did. The doctors said I had prostate cancer. I must have been between 45 and 50,” Hafler says, not recalling the exact age. He initially had radiation treatment but several years later, the cancer returned and had spread.

Hafler was living in Florida again when his cancer recurred. A doctor there had read about innovative clinical research being done by Maha Hussain, M.D., at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Knowing Hafler had lived in Michigan, the doctor facilitated a consultation.

After discussing standard treatment options and clinical trials, Hafler chose the clinical trial.

“I’m very, very happy to help any way I can. I don’t want the person coming behind me to suffer,” Hafler says. Besides, “Dr. Hussain, she’s got your back. How can you say no to someone who’s got your back?”

He’s also shared the names of his brothers who have had prostate cancer, in case their genetic information can help answer questions about why black men are at higher risk of the disease.

Hafler, divorced after 20-some years, lives with one of his 19 grandchildren. In addition to watching sports and playing on the computer, they’ll visit Eastern Market on the weekends for fresh produce and other goods so that Hafler can indulge his love of cooking.

As a born conversationalist, Hafler appreciates that his care team helps him feel at home – from the greeters and medical assistants to nurse practitioner Nikki Williams to Hussain.

“Nikki comes into the room and gives you a comfortable feeling. Being black, she makes me very comfortable in the room. Then Dr. Hussain comes in. She’s a great asset for calming down. Both of them give you that feeling of calm,” he says.

While he’s worrying over PSA and reporting on whether he took all his medications, Hussain enters the room and asks about a ball game or what he bought recently at Eastern Market.

“That really goes a long way,” he says. “When I got here, I was broken down. I was on my last wheel. The staff, they really encouraged me. It wasn’t about the medicine. I’m not a number, I’m Mr. Hafler.”

Learn more about prostate cancer survivorship and clinical trials:

Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 800-865-1125 or send an email.

* This story represents one patient’s experience and is not representative of everyone with prostate cancer.

A woman holds a sign that says survivorWhat does cancer look like? In this series of stories we explore the Face of Cancer – the patients, survivors, caregivers and health care providers who are redefining what cancer looks like. These stories celebrate the ways in which people continue to live their life, find purpose and stay true to themselves throughout cancer treatment.



University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.