Randy Owen, the Alabama singer, thought he was going to die.
Owen’s first thought after learning he had prostate cancer was, “How long do I have?”
When guitarist/fiddle player Jeff Cook discovered he had the same type of disease, he had a similar conversation with his doctor. Teddy Gentry, the band’s bassist, had a cancer screening that revealed he, too, had it and had to wait a month for test results to confirm he was healthy.
“It was an eerie feeling,” Gentry said. “However, it is possible that it could happen to any of us at any time. You have no say in the matter. It’s frightening.”
On Monday, Alabama will be presented with the Tony Martell Lifetime Entertainment Achievement Award at the T.J. Martell Foundation’s 11th annual Nashville Honors Gala. Gentry believes that being recognized by the music industry’s leading cancer research foundation will be more meaningful because the disease has affected every member of the Country Music Hall of Fame group. Owen, Gentry, and Cook, who has Parkinson’s disease, will all be in the audience.
“When I think of Alabama, I think of America,” said Laura Heatherly, CEO of the T.J. Martell Foundation. “Through the foundation, we love to honor and recognize people who have been a wonderful part of our community. I believe Alabama has impacted communities all over the country.”
The group, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, staged a farewell tour in 2003 before going on hiatus for nearly a decade until Brad Paisley reunited them in 2011 for his No. 1 hit “Old Alabama.” Members were surprised that anyone was interested in their music at the time.
When it became clear that Alabama would continue to be in demand, the multiplatinum-selling band known for 43 No. 1 hits ranging from “Mountain Music” to “Cheap Seats” reformed in 2013 and began planning.
During their downtime, Owen and Cook were diagnosed with cancer. Cook trusted his medical team, and when they said he’d be fine, he believed them. His fight would have to be postponed.
Owen’s battle with the disease was more intense. He was threatened with dismissal as a patient when he asked his doctor how much time he had left.
“He said to me, ‘I refuse to work with you as long as you have that attitude,’” Owen said. “‘What do you mean,’ I inquired. ” ‘I’m now the ship’s captain, and we’re going to whip this,’ he said.
The singer’s doctor advised him to seek treatment in Mexico, where a high-intensity focused ultrasound procedure is commonly used to treat cancer. HIFU was not available in the United States. Owen, Kelly, and his doctor flew to Mexico, where the singer was successfully treated. After nine years, Owen is still cancer-free.
“I was terrified,” he said of the life-saving procedure he received in Mexico. “But I felt like that was the right thing for me. I don’t want to start telling men what to do, but men are notorious for failing to receive their paychecks.”
Many people are reluctant to talk about prostate cancer. There are options, and the most important thing is to get the PSA test regularly and not be embarrassed to discuss it. “We’re all just sick people.”
As the founder of Country Cares for St. Jude Kids, Owen helped raise more than $800 million for cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The singer and his family were recently honored with the dedication of a patient family room at the hospital in recognition of his 30-year commitment to charity.
Being diagnosed with the disease he’d been fighting for half his life was an unexpected turn of events for the singer but one he now sees as a blessing.
“I can look at those sweet children at St. Jude and their families and say, ‘I’m with you. I overcame cancer.’ “I understand what it’s like to be told you have cancer,” he said.
Cook’s health is in jeopardy, while Owen’s is improving.
The multi-instrumentalist revealed in 2017 that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years prior and would no longer be able to tour regularly with Alabama. He left the band’s tour to undergo stem cell therapy, which improved his guitar dexterity.
Cook said he had a second treatment and planned to have a third. With more control over his hands, he could perform more Alabama concerts in 2018 than the band had previously anticipated. Cook’s speech is occasionally interrupted, but he claims to be fine except for being tired.
If he decides to play, his bandmates ensure that his equipment is set up at each concert. Meanwhile, he has a good time playing guitar in the studio. Cook co-wrote “No Bad Days” for the band’s “Southern Drawl” album, which now has a different meaning.