ARCHIVE: Manhatton Returns to the Air

Mike on assignment in Iraq.
Mike on assignment in Iraq.
At the Emmys.
At the Emmys.
At the scene of some Iraqi ruins.
At the scene of some Iraqi ruins.

WTOC's Mike Manhatton is returning to the air after medical leave following a cancer diagnosis. He'll make a special appearance tonight on THE News at 6, and he'll be back at the anchor desk for THE News at 11. Here's his story in his own words:

I hadn't yet turned 50 years old.

There's no history in my family.

Don't smoke.

I felt pretty good, and was exercising my way into the best shape of my life.

But I had cancer.

I still haven't wrapped my head around the whole thing, and for a lot of reasons, I'm not quite sure what to say. I had cancer, but my doctors are pretty confident they cut it all out.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story starts months ago. I'm not even really sure how many months ago, but quite a while. I had some stomach problems. No need for great detail here, but far too frequent visits to the restroom pretty much anywhere I went.

My eating habits hadn't changed. If anything, they'd improved. Back nearly a year ago now I adopted the old cartoon character "Opus" diet. Eat less. Exercise more. Going to the YMCA a few times a week, getting great help learning the machines and some personal coaching and encouragement from staffers. Then as the weather warmed, I got back on my bicycle. Starting with a few miles a day, a few days a week, then working up to about five days a week with short days being seven miles or so, and on nice weekend days, when I could spare the time, up to 20 miles a day. Nothing fancy, just around my neighborhood, and down major roads to other neighborhoods. It's almost easy if you put your mind to it.

I noticed the weight was finally coming off. I wasn't huge to start, but now my slacks and shirts were fitting differently, and people started to notice. Marathon runner Pat Prokop noticed, and was always there when I had questions about exercise and getting in shape, and said I was in the best shape since we started working together, more than a quarter century ago.

Pretty encouraging stuff.

But then the stomach thing just wasn't getting any better. I did a little research, had a few ideas, but am not foolish enough to be my own physician, so I called on one of the top men in town, Dr. Nicholas Costrini. He didn't like the look of the symptoms, and wanted to get me in for a colonoscopy ASAP. He set the date for the next Monday afternoon.

I won't lie to you, preparing for a colonoscopy is no fun. Very strict limits on what you can eat and drink in the day before the procedure, and a pretty unpleasant combination of cocktails to flush out your system. No fun, but when it comes right down to it, remember the poor doctor and nurses who are about to get to know you a whole lot better than anyone would like.

I did the prep, and my already odd stomach behavior got even worse, but no surprise. By Monday afternoon, I was ready to get it all over with. Dr. Costrini's staff at the Georgia Gastroenterology Group ( doing a great job getting me ready for my debut. I was comfortably out cold in moments.

When I awakened, something I didn't expect. My wife and Dr. Costrini sitting directly in front of me, obviously in serious discussion. Thanks to the anesthesia, I really don't remember much of the conversation, but I've been able to fill in the blanks since.

Dr. Costrini started the procedure, but in a very short time, and a very short distance, he found a large, malignant blockage in my colon. Darn close to blocking the whole thing, and spreading beyond the colon wall. I had just awakened, but the waste-no-time Dr. Costrini had already booked me a room at Saint Joseph Hospital for the next day, and set me up for surgery with Dr. Stephen Yeager the day after that. As the drugs wore off later that night, and I read the notes from Dr. Costrini, I realized just how serious it was.

"Malignant" is never a good word.

Checking into Saint Joseph the next day was pretty simple, and with a constant stream of doctors and nurses and other medical professionals, I got a crash course in what was about to happen. They're the pros, they're all taking this very seriously, so there was no doubt about just leaving my fate in their hands.

The surgery was going to open my midsection, find the offending section of colon, cut it out, and look for other problems, before stretching the colon back together and stitching it all up. So I was mentally prepared for a very painful post-surgery. I imagined how miserable just sitting up in bed would be. Wondered how long it would be before I could sleep on my side. Would I be able to wear pants soon? Or was I doomed to spend a long time in the lovely backless hospital gowns?

All of that fairly insignificant when you consider, without what was going to happen, I could be dead. I don't know how long people live with what I have, but I can imagine it spreads pretty quickly.

Dr. Yeager, of Savannah Surgical Oncology, found the blockage, and then some. The original tumor was about the size of your index finger, from the tip to the knuckle halfway down. About two inches. They also found a second, smaller tumor and a polyp while they were looking around. As promised, Dr. Yeager removed them all, including the affected section of my colon, then stretched the colon back together, a bit like stretching and stitching some tubing back together. Way overly simplistic, but I sure don't want to get more graphic than that. In the process they also removed some 30 lymph nodes, one of the places doctors check for signs of cancer's spread.

Surgery came and went, they'd installed an epidural in my back to manage the pain, and it worked amazingly well. Soon after surgery I was able to sit up in bed, and followed that by walking! Everyone recommended carrying a pillow pressed up against my abdomen, sort of a security blanket. I understood the need, since it felt like my midsection was moving around more than it should. An odd feeling. I would think it's probably the way a woman feels after giving birth. There's something there, moving around differently. Not painful, but definitely odd.

The time in the hospital was fairly uneventful. You know the routines. Visits at odd hours to check the statistics, and if needed, add a little something here or there. The staff on both floors of Saint Joseph where incredibly caring and even though they had to wake me and poke and prod, they were always kind and gentle and pleasant to be around. Always asking if I needed ice or water or a snack. Always trying to make my wife and me more comfortable as she spent nights at my bedside.

The time passed fairly quickly, even though it didn't feel like it at the time. From my colonoscopy, on the 14th, to surgery on the 16th, and finally my release on the 24th, I spent nine days in the hospital, and went ten days without solid food. No wonder I lost weight!

The best news came a few days after surgery, when the doctors gave me the pathology reports on the lymph nodes. No signs of cancer! So the killer hadn't spread. Just about the best news you can get.

I went home a few days after that, and am slowly on the mend. The hard part right now is recovering my strength. I am eating pretty well, and have plenty of appetite, but not as much room to put the food. So I'm eating more meals, but smaller meals.

The doctors are pretty positive. They say that with the cancer I had, and the surgery, 85% of patients have no recurrence of cancer within ten years. But there is something to improve the odds. Chemotherapy. Much improved over the years, it's not necessarily the ordeal it once was, at least not for patients in my situation.

My next stop is with the oncologist, so we'll see what happens.

But one thing that should happen is you should pay attention to your body. If you have unexplained issues, get to a doctor! I could have gone even longer without the colonoscopy, but very likely with tragic results.

For those of you who knew bits and pieces of this, and sent cards and concerns to me and my family, thank you! Your support is very helpful at a time when I was wondering what would be next.

I'll keep you posted on this journey, and hopefully, help a few people take that first big step that could actually save their lives!

Mike Manhatton,