Matt Vautour: Former UMass assistant Geoff Arnold is crusading for prostate cancer awareness

  • Geoff Arnold, right, who battled cancer in 2013. stands with former UMass coach Bruiser Flint at a 5-kilometer road race in June 2016, in Philadelphia to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer. COURTESY GEOFF ARNOLD

Monday, February 13, 2017

Geoff Arnold isn’t officially a cancer survivor yet.

The Saint Joseph’s assistant coach, who was on Bruiser Flint’s UMass staff for five years, is cancer free. The surgery to remove the cancer from his prostate was successful and has yet to recur. But he won’t call himself a survivor until he reaches the official standard.

“I’m just free and clear right now. You can’t be a cancer survivor until after five years have past,” said Arnold, whose five-year anniversary of being cancer free comes in 2018. “I’m looking forward to that.”

Arnold was Flint’s top assistant at UMass and then Drexel. He holds the same role for Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph’s, his alma mater.

Arnold had one brother die of cancer and another is a survivor. Cancer causes have been important to him even before his own diagnosis. Working at St. Joe’s is a good fit for someone with his priorities. Martelli is always active in his charitable efforts, including Coaches vs. Cancer. Like UMass and Amherst College, the Hawks are raising money by participating in the Coaches vs. Cancer Shootout, which runs throughout February.

Arnold’s quest has been to convince people to get checked for prostate cancer. Because of the sensitive nature of the area afflicted, Arnold said many people are hesitant to talk about it.

“It was taboo for guys talking about it. Men don’t talk about it enough,” said Arnold, who has done radio and print interviews hoping to get the word out. “I don’t have a problem talking about. I speak as much as I can. I want to get it out. My whole thing is to get checked.”

Since being diagnosed in 2013 at the age of 48, he’s participated in the Gary Papa Run, a Philadelphia 5K that benefits prostate cancer research. In 2016, he led a team of 50 runners, including Bruiser Flint, who all wore T-shirts with his slogan “Team Arnold Get Checked.”

“They say get checked at 50, but it affects the African-American community more,” Arnold, 52, said. “I tell everybody 40.”

It runs more commonly in families, which is why Arnold’s surgeon asked him about his children.

“I laughed and he looked at me funny,” Arnold said chuckling at the memory. “I said I have one biological daughter, and about 300 sons.”

Those 300 or so players leave St. Joe’s well before it’s time for them to get tested, but Arnold plans to make sure they’re informed.

“As an athlete you think you’ve got a suit of armor on,” Arnold said. “All of a sudden you’re hit by this. I had no symptoms, nothing. You need to go get checked. It’s an unbelievably humbling experience, but if found early it can be OK.”

MY TOP 10 — 1. Gonzaga; 2. Villanova; 3. Kansas; 4. Baylor; 5. Arizona; 6. UCLA; 7. Oregon. 8. Virginia; 9. Louisville; 10. West Virginia.

For the rest of my Top 25, visit the College Hoop Week Guide on gazettenet.com’s UMass Sports Blog.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: Kansas at Baylor, Saturday, 1 p.m. CBS — Could the Bears be the team to end the Jayhawks’ seemingly infinite streak of Big 12 titles? If they win Saturday they could.

ATLANTIC 10 GAME OF THE WEEK: VCU at Richmond, Friday 9 p.m. ESPN2 — The battle for supremacy in Virginia’s capital makes this game mean something in any year, but heading into the week, the Spiders are just a game back of the first-place Rams.

BUZZER BEATER — In November, Indiana not only looked like a lock for the tournament, but a likely high seed. But with selection Sunday a month away, despite boasting wins over Kansas and North Carolina, the stumbling Hoosiers need to play their way in. They’ve lost five straight and look NIT bound.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage