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Chris Matthews Plays Hardball with Prostate Cancer

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Chris Matthews Plays Hardball with Prostate Cancer

For 20 years, political junkies of all persuasions have been tuning in five nights a week to watch Chris Matthews grill the day’s top troublemakers on MSNBC’s Hardball. But it wasn’t until he was missing from the anchor chair for a few nights this fall that his fans learned why he’d gone MIA: The network announced that Matthews was one of the more than 174,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, and he had undergone surgery to take care of it. Here, Matthews talks with Men’s Health about how he found out, what he did about it, and how he recovered from the cancer that will hit one in nine men over their lifetime:

MH: So what happened? It’s early fall, you’re minding your own business, covering the biggest political news in a generation, and…

CM: I had gone to a couple of urologists and had gotten a physical exam. They’d done my PSA [prostate-specific antigen] number, and it had risen from around five to higher than seven. I was told that the number wasn’t quite as important as the hike, or the rise, of the number, and my doctors were concerned.

MH: So you got the PSA results and saw an alarming hike. Then what?

CM: Alarming may be overdoing it. But concerning. I think I had a physical exam. Then I had an MRI. Then I had a biopsy. What they do there is they superimpose the results of the MRI, looking for the trouble spots there, and then they overlay that with the biopsy results and they can really locate the problem areas. They found one that was particularly concerning that had a Gleason score of 9, with containment in the organ.

MH: Which is great news. All things considered.

CM: It was a pretty easy decision to go for surgery rather than radiation or some other treatment. It made sense. The surgery was at the National Institutes of Health, and they did it on October 7. I stayed in the hospital from Monday to Friday, and went back in for three checks in the next seven days. Eight days later, I went in to have the catheter removed. Which was a day. And I’ve been fine ever since. They said I was clear of all other problems. [The cancer] was getting close to the periphery, but they were able to fully remove the problem. I was out of work for two weeks.

MH: That’s not a lot of recovery time.

CM: It’s a long time if you work in this business. It wasn’t one of those things where you had to explore options. I think it’s pretty clear that if I hadn’t done anything, I’d be facing a five-year situation.

MH: That clarifies things pretty quickly.

CM: I never thought of it that way. I just thought of it as another deadline to deal with in life. And you just have to make a decision. Like going on a TV show every night. You gotta do it. I wouldn’t even consider this a particularly bad situation. One thing I was struck with was how other people’s problems are really pretty dramatic. And in some cases awful. Mine wasn’t. I’ve been very lucky in my life.

MH: So much of approaching situations like cancer is how you approach it mentally. A lot of people—particularly when they hear “You have cancer”—experience a lot of stress.

CM: To be honest, what I heard was: You’ve got a situation you gotta deal with.

MH: But were there any moments when you sort of had to take a deep breath?

CM: I didn’t have any stress. I got up that morning. Kathleen, my wife, drove me over there, went over there with me. It was one of those things in life, like taking the SATs or GREs. It’s a thing you have to go through. I didn’t see it as frightening. These doctors are good.

MH: Was there a moment when you thought, I don’t have time for this. I’m about to enter another impeachment cycle nearly 20 years since the last time I covered an impeachment on Hardball?

CM: My bosses are very understanding here at NBC. I had malaria once. I got three weeks off for that, because my doctor said, “Take another week.” All you have to do is tell your bosses what your doctor says, and they honor it.

MH: But you’re not the type of guy who goes to work because that’s what his bosses expect. You go because you’re driven. Was there a part of you that felt like you were missing something?

CM: I’m not crazy. I can take off. I love Saturday morning. It’s my favorite time of the week. And one of the parts I like about it is reading the paper. Because I don’t have to read it. But I read it because I love it. I do like to decompress. There are times I say, “I need the day off.”

MH: What’s the secret to your energy levels at age 73?

CM: M&Ms? I got over that habit, but that was a bad habit—whole saddlebags of M&Ms. Now, about 4:30, 5:00, I will feel the day getting long. That’ll get to me. So I’ll take a ten-minute—and I mean ten-minute—nap. You know, all my heroes—Kennedy and Johnson—all those presidents had that afternoon-nap habit. They really did.

MH: This fall marks the 20th anniversary of your nightly show, and just like in the early days of Hardball, you’re covering a potential presidential impeachment. How are you preparing yourself mentally and physically and journalistically for the next 18 months?

CM: I’ve been following elections since I was a kid, since I was six. I’ll tell you something. I have one unique advantage. Interest. I’m interested in this topic of politics. It’s my great life gift. That I care. And I’m not saying that I’m more patriotic than anyone else. I’m more fascinated than most people I know about how this thing works.

MH: It gets you on the air at 7:00.

CM: Remember in the movies, they’d say, “Break down the front page—this story is gonna break this town wide open.” Well that happens almost every night. Something happens at 6:30. The Times, The Post, Daily Beast, Politico, The Journal—somebody posts a story and it’s bigger than anything I’ve been working on. And so we go with it. And that’s the best nights we get around here. Our best nights.

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