This week, Altitude Sports host and must-follow Twitter genius Vic Lombardi announced that he has prostate cancer. And even though he's got plenty on his mind, including surgery scheduled for February 28, he's focusing much of his energy on encouraging men to be tested for this cancer years before the recommended standard of age fifty.
Compliment him for his efforts, though, and the 49-year-old responds with the sort of quick-lipped, good-humored self-deprecation that has made him a Denver broadcasting gem.
"Listen, I'm not Gandhi here," Lombardi insists. "Not me. I'm not like, 'I'm going to help everybody!' This is my coping mechanism. I'm in the public, I'm in the media, and I exchange information for a living. So it's helping me cope to talk about this openly and honestly. It's the most therapeutic thing I can do."
While Lombardi was with CBS4, he won Westword's Best of Denver award as the city's top TV sportscaster four times — in 2000, 2004, 2011 and 2015. When local network affiliates began de-emphasizing sports on their nightly news programs, he made a smart jump to Altitude, the home of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, among other squads. And even though Altitude is part of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, whose namesake, gajillionaire Stan Kroenke, owns the Nuggets and Avs, Lombardi's work has lost none of its bite. He continues to be witty and opinionated rather than falling into the trap of mere cheerleading.
He's also an active and lively on-air presence, and as he's ridden the wave of the Nuggets' terrific season to date — the team continues to hover near the top of the NBA's Western division — he hasn't shown any indication of fatigue.
"I've had no problems at all," he confirms. "I've always considered myself extremely healthy and extremely fortunate."
Nonetheless, back in December, when hockey legend Eddie Olczyk appeared on the 92.5 FM Altitude Sports Radio show he co-hosts with Marc Moser to raise awareness about colon cancer and encourage checkups, "it hit me pretty hard," Lombardi recalls. "I said, 'I promise I'm going to call and get a physical — and during the commercial break, I did. I set it up for two weeks later, and afterward, the doctor said, 'Your PSA levels are high.'"
In his business, Lombardi quips, "PSAs are public-service announcements. I was like, 'Damn, we must not be selling many commercials.'" But in this case, the letters stand for prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced by prostate cells — and the higher the level, the greater the chance of having prostate cancer. So Lombardi went to a urologist, who performed a biopsy — "and a week later, I got the call that I had cancer."
He characterizes this revelation as "totally out of the blue. I have no family history of this, no symptoms, nothing — and I'm pretty young to get prostate cancer. It's known as an old man's disease, but now I'm learning that it's really not. People in their thirties, forties and fifties can get it, too."
Prostate cancer is among the most treatable variants of the ailment, but Lombardi says the type he has is particularly aggressive, ranking nine out of ten on the Gleason scale, a metric that helps doctors know how quickly the disease is growing. That's one reason surgery was scheduled so quickly, but there's another factor, too. Recovery time from the surgery is typically about a month, and, as Lombardi notes, "The Nuggets are going to be in the playoffs this year — and I don't want to miss it."
This get-’er-done outlook is helping Lombardi navigate the challenges associated with the toll his medical issues are taking on those around him, including his parents, his three kids (they range in age from thirteen to twenty) and his wife, who recently lost her mother to cancer — and her father passed away shortly thereafter. "It's been toughest on her," he acknowledges.
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Fortunately, he points out that his bosses at Altitude "have been great. They told me not to worry and take all the time I need." And he's also got something of a cancer sensei in friend and fellow sportscaster Les Shapiro, who recently shared his own cancer story in this space; he's currently battling lung cancer that was originally misdiagnosed.
"Les has been a godsend for me," Lombardi stresses. "He was one of the first people I called when I found out. He's got a different form of cancer than I do, but he mentally walked me through all the stages — and I've been feeling everything he predicted. He was a mentor of mine when I got into this business, so it's cruelly ironic that he's now a mentor of mine when I'm facing this disease. But he's been great. When you talk to someone who's going through this, you know you're not alone."
These feelings have been reinforced since Lombardi disclosed his diagnosis. The messages of encouragement he's received via social media from fans, some of whom have gone through their own health struggles, "has been very humbling, but also very energizing," he says. "It's one reason why I'm on a mission to get people to be tested and not be an idiot like me, who didn't even know what a prostate was. At one point, I thought it was in the kneecap."
His message: "Guys, don't wait until you're fifty. Get a physical, ask for blood work, and demand to be tested at forty even if you don't have a family history — because that doesn't matter anymore. It doesn't hurt, and it can absolutely save your life."