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Wallau's Experience Offers Hope to Butler

May 10, 1996|LARRY STEWART

Alex Wallau, as much as anyone, can empathize with Brett Butler. Wallau knows what Butler is going through and what lies ahead.

"It's going to be tough for Brett and even tougher for his family," Wallau said.

Wallau, the executive vice president of the ABC network but better known to sports fans as ABC's boxing commentator, is a survivor of throat cancer.

Wallau's cancer, discovered in 1987 when he was 42, was the same kind Butler has--Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Because Wallau felt no pain, the cancer reached Stage 4, the highest stage, before being discovered. He didn't go to a doctor until after he felt a lump in his neck one morning while washing his face.

Three cancerous tumors were found, and two hospitals said Wallau's condition was terminal because cancerous cells had spread beyond the three tumors.

"I can't speculate about Brett's situation because no two cancers are the same, and I'm not a doctor who has examined him," Wallau said. "I can only tell you about my situation, which appears similar to Brett's.

"The best thing for me was to not go into denial, but to accept the fact that this was a very serious cancer that could kill me. I got the best treatment I could and did as best as I could during the treatment.

"I would never be arrogant enough to say I beat cancer. Cancer is a very humbling disease. I've been cancer-free for eight years, and I hope that is the end of it."

Wallau smoked two packs of cigarettes a day until he was 30. He never chewed tobacco.

"I think the fact that I quit smoking 13 years before I got cancer enabled me to survive it," he said.

Wallau went through four operations and 32 days of intense radiation treatment plus a then-experimental 52-hour process in which radiation was implanted through 16 tubes in his neck.

The radiation wiped out Wallau's saliva glands, and he could no longer swallow or eat solid foods. He lived on strawberry milkshakes for eight months and lost 67 pounds.

Wallau still suffers from the effects of the treatment but says he has only positive thoughts for Butler and his family and anyone who has to go through a battle against cancer.

This month Wallau, based in New York, is in Los Angeles viewing pilots and planning ABC's fall schedule. And he and his wife, Martha, are also spending time with their close friends, Al and Linda Michaels, who live in Brentwood.

When Wallau was going through the experimental radiation treatment, he was so radioactive he couldn't have visitors. But Michaels, the ABC announcer, flew to New York to see him anyway. "The room I was in had a window on this steel door, and seeing Al's face, along with my wife's, through that window meant a lot to me," Wallau said.


Lee Hamilton lost one of his best friends, Jim Peterson, a pitcher in the Dodger organization, to throat cancer caused by chewing tobacco last year at the age of 31.

The Butler news hit Hamilton hard, and he devoted much of his XTRA radio show on Wednesday to cancer and the effects of chewing tobacco, calling it "the most meaningful radio I've done in a long time."

Joe Garagiola, one of Hamilton's guests, told the story of Bill Tuttle, an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Athletics in the 1950s who lost much of one side of his face because of treatment for throat cancer caused by chewing tobacco.

Garagiola, Tuttle and Tuttle's wife, Gloria, visited spring training camps this year to let baseball players see firsthand the results of cancer caused by chewing tobacco.

"When I would tell players that if they choose to continue chewing tobacco to at least have a trainer or a doctor look into their mouths and check for lesions," Garagiola said, "it was almost comical to see so many players running their tongues around their mouths checking for lesions."

TV-Radio Notes

Sports talk-show host Joe McDonnell, out of work the past six weeks because of KMAX-FM's format change, goes back on the air on KWNK (670) Monday with a regular 10 a.m.-noon show. He replaces Ed "Superfan" Bieler, who was fired after only seven days. Sadly, Bieler, who was big in the 1970s at KABC, just wasn't the same and barely generated any calls. . . . KWNK's midday show with Bob Golic and Rich Herrera has been picked up for syndication by Prime Sports Radio. . . . KWNK boxing expert Johnny Ortiz makes his debut as a commentator on CVI, the local cable television outlet in Long Beach, when the monthly boxing shows begin at the Pyramid next Thursday. Lew Stowers will handle the blow by blow. Promoters hope to land a major television outlet. . . . "Thoroughbred L.A.," the Eclipse Award-winning racing show with Mike Willman and Kurt Hoover, returns this weekend on KRLA (1110). It will be broadcast 8-9 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

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