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A talk-radio legendís latest challenge

David Brudnoy is no stranger to serious illness. The legendary WBZ Radio (AM 1030) talk-show host was diagnosed with HIV in the late 1980s ó something that became public knowledge only after he nearly died of AIDS in 1994. Following his recovery, he started the David Brudnoy Fund for AIDS Research and became one of the countryís most visible symbols in the search for a cure.

Now Brudnoy faces his most serious health challenge in nine years. On Tuesday evening he announced that he has been diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare, aggressive form of skin cancer. A classic workaholic (he hopes to take as little time off as possible during three months of radiation and chemotherapy), Brudnoy also teaches media criticism at Boston University, reviews movies for the Community Newspaper chain, and does commentary for the 10 p.m. newscast on WSBK-TV, Channel 38.

Brudnoy, 63, spoke with the Phoenix on Tuesday afternoon. Earlier in the day, heíd shared the news with his students. In a few hours he would tell the world.

"Iím kind of the poster child for defying the odds," he joked. Itís no exaggeration to say that all of New England ó and beyond ó hopes he beats them again.

Some edited excerpts:

On learning that he has cancer. "I thought I had sort of a pimple on the top of my forehead and maybe a cyst on the side of my ear. When I went to the dermatologist a couple of weeks ago, he said, ĎNope, itís not a pimple. Let me biopsy it, and Iíll call you in a day.í He called me and said, ĎItís really, really serious, and itís not easily survivable, if at all.í And before I knew it, I was in the hands of a surgeon. He excised the thing on the top of my forehead. It was the size of a nickel. The big one, on my cheek, has to be radiated away. Itís beginning to look like a golf ball."

On his prognosis. "Iíve got at least a 50-50 chance, maybe more, because it was caught before it metastasized. One of the cancers is out already. The radiation will deal with the rest of the stuff, and the chemo will go on search-and-destroy, and do what it does ó and also, as you know, kill fast-growing healthy cells, like hair, which is why most patients lose hair. I asked my students today, ĎDo you want bald or in a cap? Which do you want? I can either do Rapmaster Bruds or I can wear a cap. Iím not going to wear any wig.í The problem for me is because I have no immune system, how is it going to hit me? I have practically no white cells. Itís amazing Iíve lived these nine years, more than was expected, and with comparatively mild symptoms when you think about what some people go through. Iím fully functioning, very little pain. Iím really in very good shape. Weíll see if my spunk and energy and good cheer compensate in any way for the fact that I donít have an immune system, or whether nature will take its course and just hit me hard on it."

On living with serious illness. "Iíve learned one thing: I canít do it alone. Iíve always had friends, Iíve always loved people. But I always thought, ĎI can take care of my own things.í And I realize now, you canít. Iíve learned to need people and not to feel embarrassed. Iíve also learned to open up far more. I never wanted people to stay here at the house. It isnít that I didnít like people, itís that I felt I couldnít function with house guests. Iíve lived so long alone. I finally got a hide-a-bed. And Iíve learned I kind of like people around.

"Iíve also found that my priorities are more devoted to helping others. I realize how many people helped me get through 1994. And so I tend to be a little bit more comfortable reaching out."

Issue Date: September 26 - October 2, 2003
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