Two-time cancer survivor Billy Pine is proud to say that he has almost never missed his half-mile daily swim since he began a rigorous six-month course of chemotherapy for colon cancer almost 12 years ago at UC Irvine Medical Center.
Now 70, the retired recording industry executive, who also beat prostate cancer nearly five years ago, figures UC Irvine "has saved my life twice."
Pine remembers well the oncology team that cared for him in 2002 at the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, especially nurse Julie M. Boyle, whom he describes as "the Florence Nightingale of our generation."
"She put her arms around me and said, ‘This is not an easy deal, one week of chemotherapy and three weeks of recovery, but you're going to be fine.' And I was," Pine recalls.
The Monarch Beach resident was so impressed with the skill, commitment and caring of everyone at Orange County's only university hospital that he and his wife soon became donors. The man who helped develop the packaging for videocassette, compact and digital disc products also urged his children and friends to "send something, anything, to the cancer center," designated by the National Cancer Institute as one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation.
Then in 2007, a routine checkup revealed that Pine had high levels of an antigen marker for prostate cancer. His heroes the second time around included Dr. Andrew Reikes, his internist at UC Irvine's Gottschalk Medical Plaza; Gottschalk's then clinical operations manager, Sandra J. Longnecker; and Dr. Thomas Ahlering, a UC Irvine urologist who performed Pine's robot-assisted prostatectomy.
"Dr. Ahlering did a biopsy right away so that there were no ambiguities, no guesswork," Pine says. All 12 spots tested positive for prostate cancer, which kills about 27,000 men each year, making it the deadliest cancer among males after lung cancer.
"You have some choices, but the best bet is to remove the prostate by robotic surgery," Ahlering told Pine, adding that he would make every effort to spare nerve endings and preserve both urinary and sexual function.
The surgeon performed Pine's prostatectomy on May 7, 2007. About 10 days later, Pine says, he regained continence. After a little help from Ahlering and Dr. Aaron Spitz, a UC Irvine urologist who specializes in male sexual dysfunction, Pine says, "Everything works!"
A recent physical exam and tests show that Pine remains in remission for both colon and prostate cancer. The prognosis is good that he'll stay that way. But the man who took chances in the genres of classic jazz, pop and even rap music in the early days of Eazy-E is taking none with his health. He eats well and faithfully visits his doctors at six-month intervals.
When he’s not traveling the country and the world, Pine swims at least a half-mile every day at The Tennis Club at Monarch Beach, where he urges fellow regulars to "get checked," preferably at UC Irvine Medical Center, which he describes as "a safe harbor."
"When you're alone in the pool and swimming for a half hour or 40 minutes, you can do a lot of meditating," he says. "It's therapeutic—especially in combination with a strong faith, my family’s support and the incredible group of doctors and nurses at UC Irvine."