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Jack Klugman Wants You!

by Ellen Jordan

For over two decades, celebrities have entrusted Coping® to tell the world about their personal experience with cancer. We are proud to present this exclusive interview from our archives and hope that it will inspire and encourage all who read it. This article was originally published in Coping with Cancer magazine, July/August 1992.

Celebrity Cancer Survivor

Jack Klugman's message to cancer survivors is in synch with his inner voice: 'you can beat it'! It has been three years since he battled throat cancer and won. Since that surgery, the beloved star of stage and screen has given literally thousands of cancer survivors hope and courage to keep fighting their battles with cancer.

Klugman's role as an advocate of hope for cancer patients began soon after his surgery. "It really happened by accident," he recalls. "Mary Lou Hawkins from the American Cancer Society asked me to attend the 'Tree of Life' planting at the group's headquarters in Atlanta. I had just had throat surgery six months earlier and I couldn't speak. I was also kind of bitter that it had happened in my throat because I am an actor and need my voice."

In a raspy voice, with emotion swelling, Klugman spoke that day to a crowd of over 200 survivors. That was June of 1990. "So I thought I would just sit on the platform. But the love I felt there was truly inspiring, and it touched me deeply, so I spoke to the crowd and tried to give them hope. Everyone there was so concerned with the other person and not themselves. And everyone had the same message: 'we're going to beat it.'"

Since that day, he has been readily accessible to anyone who has called on him to make speeches or lobby Congress. Klugman will do anything to help the fight against cancer.

"That day, at the meeting in 1990, everyone came up to me and said that I looked wonderful and that I was going to beat it," he remembers. "So I said then, wherever I can be of help, I will."

A firm believer in early detection, Klugman calls it the key to survival. His throat cancer was discovered during a routine physical that was three weeks overdue because of his work on a movie. The doctor detected something wrong in his throat immediately and ordered a biopsy. Klugman tried to postpone it for a month to complete his film project. He had never felt better in his life and suffered no symptoms of illness. He saw no harm in putting off the biopsy.

"The doctor said to me plainly, 'Jack, in three weeks, you'll be short of breath. In four months, you'll be dead."

Klugman had battled non-invasive cancer four and a half years earlier and it had reversed itself. He went for surgery quickly and doctors removed a vocal cord, leaving the award-winning actor with an extremely weak voice. He saw many doctors in the year that followed trying to regain his normal voice, but without success.

A firm believer in early detection, Klugman calls it the key to survival.

Then a miracle occurred. He had heard that the gossip tabloids were going to break a story about the loss of his voice. So, Klugman booked a visit on "Entertainment Tonight" to quell the rumors. Gary Catona, a successful voice therapist, was watching the show that night and called Klugman afterward. "He brought my voice back," Klugman says with gratitude. Ironically, Catona was born in South Philadelphia only four blocks from Klugman's birthplace.

After his successful voice therapy, Klugman returned to his successful career - and to his work as an advocate in the fight against cancer. Last year, he revived the "Odd Couple" in a play. He's also been offered several plays that he is considering because he enjoys the stage. Plans are in the works also for a possible 2-hour "Quincy" or 2-hour "Odd Couple" television special. He and "Odd Couple" partner, Tony Randall, are presently appearing in award-winning commercials for Eagle Snacks.

Klugman, who will turn a very young 70 this year, has no health regimen for staying well. He is a lover of good food, particularly pasta, and adheres to a well-rounded diet. For breakfast, he enjoys bagels and cream cheese, a salad for lunch, and a sensible dinner. He even treats himself to an occasional steak or prime rib. He has not smoked in 20 years, exercises regularly, goes to bed a little hungry, and takes a "slug" of Maalox every morning and evening.

Staying healthy to Klugman means staying positive. "It's very harmful to think negatively. I don't ever think negatively. I think of myself, for example, as a non-smoker, not a former smoker. I am a non-cancer patient, not a former cancer patient. If the disease comes back, it is not negative - I will just deal with it," he says firmly.

His cancer support work has made Klugman one of the strongest voices on Capitol Hill for more research dollars to fight disease. Anytime he can, he speaks before Congressional committees to ask for more research. "I know we have a national crisis with AIDS and both diseases (AIDS and cancer) desperately need more research. We mustn't play one off against the other. You just cannot compromise with human life!"

There are over eight million cancer survivors alive today. "We are a very strong group and we are getting closer and warmer," Klugman says fondly. "Like other support groups, we share a camaraderie that keeps us together. You learn to talk in shorthand to each other. The cards and phone numbers that are exchanged among survivors is truly amazing."

People who have not seen Jack Klugman for awhile tell him that he looks wonderful. He is tan and fit and youthful. And his voice is strong and sure. His presence brings warmth and hope and optimism.

"The word 'cancer' strikes panic in people's minds. But an individual can lick it. You just have to say, 'thank you, Lord' and go on. You must realize how lucky you are, then get on with it. Don't look back once. There's nothing there. Move on and keep your vistas open. My sister, who is 82 and battled colon cancer 20 years ago, just returned from Russia and is planning her next trip. My brother is 84. You have to keep learning and doing and looking forward. This is my philosophy," Klugman says.

"After my throat operation, my sister would hear none of my complaining. She said that I should think how lucky I was to be able to go on. She made me realize that I had to just get on with it and not look back."

Klugman's words ring with conviction: "Positive thinking gets you and keeps you well. A negative way of thinking can kill you." Jack Klugman wants you to write your congressman, reach out to other survivors and most of all, Jack Klugman wants you to live.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 1992.