Derrick Hall. President & CEO Arizona Diamondbacks
Striking Out Pancreatic Cancer
Written By Debra Gelbart
Early Detection, Genetic Testing Could Be Key
Arizona Diamondbacks President & CEO Derrick Hall has a lot of responsibilities, but he has found time to passionately urge people diagnosed with cancer and those whose loved ones have had cancer to undergo genetic testing.
Hall, who has been with the Diamondbacks organization since 2005, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, a couple of years after his father, Larry Hall, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After he was diagnosed, Roger Magowitz, founder of the Seena Magowitz Foundation, recommended that Derrick go through genetic testing to get ahead of any indicators that he could be susceptible to another cancer.
“We all need to be alert,” Derrick said in an interview in Boston at the 16th annual Seena Magowitz Foundation Golf Classic, where more than $1 million was raised for pancreatic cancer research. It was Derrick’s sixth consecutive year to serve as master of ceremonies for the event. He’s also served as honorary chair for the event in a previous year.
“We need to be aware and concerned if we have that hereditary background,” Derrick added. “They thought they would find (cancer-related) genes with me because of my background, with my father and his father. But, as it turns out, we’re okay, which gives me some peace of mind. But it’s important to be as proactive as possible, to make sure you can check off getting tested.”
Derrick’s wife Amy was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in the spring of 2016. She continues to do well after aggressive treatment, Derrick said.
A Personal Connection
Derrick and Amy have been supporters of the Seena Magowitz Foundation for more than a decade. He arrived in Phoenix in 2005 after spending 14 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization. “The Seena Magowitz Foundation and TGen (the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix) are very personal to me,” Derrick said, “because Dr. (Daniel) Von Hoff was my father’s doctor. When my father was diagnosed in 2010, he was Stage 4.”
Before Larry Hall connected with Dr. Von Hoff, the world’s leading pancreatic cancer researcher and clinician, Larry underwent a Whipple procedure and was told that he had between a month and three months to live, Derrick said. “I then went to (Dr.) Jeff Trent (the founder of TGen) and Dr. Von Hoff and they said, ‘Bring him to us.’ They told us it would be a challenge, but they were going to try to prolong his life. And they did. He lived for three years, really because of (Dr. Von Hoff). It should have been three months max.”
Dr. Von Hoff placed Larry Hall on a few clinical trials, including one—a regimen of three chemotherapy drugs—that Dr. Von Hoff named “The Triple,” Derrick said, in honor of Larry Hall’s love of baseball. “We grew very close with TGen and with Dr. Von Hoff and then Roger and I became close friends. He’s a supporter of so many causes, including the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation.”
The Diamondbacks Foundation focuses on cancer, education and homelessness, among other issues, Derrick said.
“Roger’s been great. He’s a hero, a champion, as humble an individual as I’ve ever met. He doesn’t want the attention, doesn’t need the attention. He’s brought together resources through (the mattress) industry that no one had ever tapped before. The money he’s been able to raise, the awareness he’s been able to raise, is very important because pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest diseases. But the advancements made because of generous individuals like Roger are unbelievable. And I look now at where we are versus 10 years ago, and there’s hope.” Now, Derrick added, with City of Hope resources behind TGen, “the money that they will have, the research capabilities they will have, the funding they have, I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
The key to appropriate and successful treatment for cancer especially, Derrick said, is early detection. “The irony is usually you don’t have early detection for pancreatic cancer. But I know Dr. Von Hoff and his team are hard at work developing a method for early detection.”
Derrick said he and the Diamondbacks organization will always support the Seena Magowitz Foundation and TGen. “We all know someone who’s been impacted by cancer; everybody knows someone affected. I lost a friend, Sen. John McCain, to cancer. Some diagnoses are worse than others. Pancreatic cancer is one of those, but it’s because of people like Dr. Von Hoff and Roger that it’s better. You know it’s scary for everyone, but you have hope and faith with events like this here in Boston.”