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Laughing in the face of cancer

Only comedian/TV/radio host Dave Anderson could turn tables on diagnosis


by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Cancer surgery has gone well and life has taken on new meaning for television/radio host and comedian Dave Anderson (with KPAM sidekick Mark Mason). 'I'm going to enjoy whatever days I have left,' he says.As the days went on, and Dave Anderson overcame the shock and realized that he had cancer and had to undergo surgery and had to face the great unknown, the Portland TV personality, radio celebrity and comedian calmed down and faced reality.

Sort of.

It didn’t take Anderson long to return to his old ways of being a funny man with a bunch of funny thoughts.

One day, pre-surgery, he dropped a pill on the ground. A germaphobe, Anderson normally would have discarded the pill. But, he was walking around with cancer in his pancreas, a little more serious than downing a dirty pill.

“What’s it going to do?” he muses. “What will it hurt?”

In the days after his diagnosis, Anderson drew closer to his wife, Christy, and son, 19-year-old Quinton, and daughter, 14-year-old McKenna.

Aw, how nice, right?

“One of benefits of a diagnosis like this,” he jokes, “is your teenagers start being nicer to you. Everybody parent should have this.”

And, the ol’ pancreas, who would have known? Anderson clearly didn’t heed some advice he had heard once: “Dont’ ever piss off your pancreas.”

No joke, the 53-year-old Anderson emerged from 10-hour surgery Monday, Feb. 24, to remove a tumor in his pancreas, and it sounds like Anderson might be one of the lucky ones. Doctors told him they removed the tumor, it hadn’t spread and, depending on pathology tests, he may or may not need chemotherapy, his closest confidants says. The Anderson family, his co-host Mark Mason on the popular KPAM 860 AM radio program, co-host Helen Raptis on KATU’s “AM Northwest” and thousands of fans can breathe collective sighs of relief, for now.

“So far so good,” Anderson texted the Portland Tribune last week. “Some rough moments within good days. Surgery was a success.”

A big box of cards

Anderson says that “shock” and “surreal” and many other emotions greeted he and his wife upon revelation of the cancer. His “pessimistically hopeful” attitude turned to “optimism” and, post-surgery, Anderson says “happy is the word.”

Says Christy Anderson: “He’s doing great, and the doctor says he’s progressing well. He’s kept his humor, although I’m not sure the doctors and nurses get his humor.”

Mason, also the Trail Blazers’ public address announcer, says his buddy looked good, even after 10 hours of surgery. He took a photo of Anderson in his hospital garb on one visit last week; no, it wasn’t taken from behind. It was partly for comedic positivity, partly to remind Anderson.

“He cussed me out for taking his picture,” Mason says. “The reason I took it — someday he’s going to feel good enough and look back on this, and he’s not going to remember much. I can show it to him, and he can keep it, look back on the very trying time in his life, and consider how he came out of it.”

Anderson may return in the short-term to his radio gig with Mason — it’s the beauty of radio that Anderson can sit in his pajamas at home and talk to his buddy. Same thing with their co-written column in the Thursday Portland Tribune.

Doctors told him recovery could take six to eight weeks, but returning to work might be seen as part of the recuperation process.

“I’m sure it’ll help him,” Christy Anderson says. “He’s not one to sit around, he’ll probably push it faster than he should.” If anything, Anderson has some work to do at home, she adds. “We got a big box of cards we need to go through. That, along with Facebook posts and email ... people have been very supportive.”

Pretty lucky

Anderson, a 1979 Cleveland High School graduate, lived in Los Angeles while working as a full-time comedian until 1990, when he returned to Portland. He continued to do standup while working in talk radio and television. In the past decade, he has been a fixture on radio (KEX and now KPAM) and “AM Northwest.”

Along the way, he has touched a lot of people; like many, Anderson never quite realized the impact of the caring from others, until he contracted pancreatic cancer and had to face the harsh reality.

“It’s amazing. I’ve given support to people, and thoughts and prayers, and often wondered what difference does it make?” he says, pre-surgery. “I’ll tell you, it makes a big difference. it buoys you, gives you hope.”

Anderson needed the hope. He and Christy were on vacation in Hawaii in June 2013 when Anderson suffered some abdominal pain. When they returned to Portland, Anderson visited his doctor, who diagnosed him with pancreatitis and, later, Type 2 diabetes.

He watched what he ate and drank, exercised and lost some weight. But, his diabetes got worse. He had a CT scan and it showed an inflamed pancreas, which regulates blood sugar and digestive enzymes.

An endoscope finally discovered the real problem: a tumor in his pancreas. It was Jan. 29 and doctors told him bad news and good news. It was cancer in the pancreas, but it hadn’t appeared to spread and could be removed.

He started eating normally again, put some weight back on and prepared for surgery, knowing that “I consider myself pretty lucky. I’m told I’m lucky, as lucky as you can get,” he says. “Like my friend said, it’s a bad story but you got a good part in it.”

‘They have a gift

Anderson admitted to experiencing emotions in the days leading up to surgery. He tried to remain his fun-loving, joking self. But, standup comedians are notoriously neurotic and insecure, which Anderson freely admits describes him. It’s why he became good at making people laugh.

“Comedians — you either are one or you’re not,” he says. “I think that with insecurity and neuroticism, you’re seeing things differently and want to express it. I’m not as neurotic as some, but enough. ... Somebody once said that comedians actually see the world correctly and they have to tell everybody else that they’ve seen it wrong.”

Right away Anderson tried to find humor in walking around with cancer. He talked about it on his KPAM show. “Hey, without this,” he jokes, “I’m in great shape!”

He adds: “Every dime I’ve ever made has been from talking about my life. As gloomy and bleak as this might be, it shouldn’t be any different. I talk about the world I live in. ... No point hanging on to darkness.”

Anderson had one piece of good advice for men — and women — out there: “The real lesson in this is, if your body tells you something’s going on, believe it,” he says. “You have to trust your body. ... There are all sorts of silent killers out there — now, hey, enjoy your day.”

His body appears to be on the mend. Mason hopes he’ll have his radio buddy back soon. Upon hearing good news about Anderson’s surgery, he let other friends know that their regular “Mancation” in Las Vegas, the ninth version, will be on for 2015. Early this year, during “Mancation,” Mason and friends knew the “elephant in the room” was that Anderson had pancreatic cancer, but they marveled at how Anderson made them all feel comfortable. They joked about spreading cremated ashes on a Las Vegas golf course — without being caught. Now, news has turned good, and morbid jokes might be curtailed.

Anderson says that, through his ordeal, he has earned much more respect for cancer patients.”They have a gift. On the other side, they see things differently. I’m going to enjoy whatever days I have left. The diagnosis changed my outlook. I take that as a gift.”