Since undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer in 2002, Billy Pine seldom misses his half-mile daily swim. The retired recording industry executive credits that achievement to self-discipline and the team at UC Irvine’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.
He singles out for praise his oncologist, Dr. Randall F. Holcombe, and 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 UC Irvine Medical Center that he and his wife became donors. They also have urged their children and friends to “send something, anything, to the Chao center,” designated by the National Cancer Institute as one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation.
In 2007, Pine was again diagnosed with cancer. A routine checkup revealed high levels of an antigen marker for prostate cancer. His heroes this time around included Dr. Andrew Reikes, his internist at UC Irvine’s Gottschalk Medical Plaza; Gottschalk’s clinical operations manager, Sandra J. Longnecker; and Dr. Thomas Ahlering, a UC Irvine urologist renowned for his skill with the robotic da Vinci Surgical System, who performed Pine’s prostatectomy.
“Dr. Ahlering did a biopsy right away so that there were no ambiguities, no guesswork,” Pine says. All 12 test spots were positive for prostate cancer, which kills about 27,000 men each year, making it the deadliest cancer among males after lung cancer.
Ahlering recommended removal of Pine’s prostate gland via robotic surgery, vowing to make every effort to spare nerve endings and preserve both urinary and sexual function.
He performed the prostatectomy on May 7. 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!”
Now 68, Pine remains in remission for colon and prostate cancer. The prognosis is good that he’ll stay that way. He’s taking no chances with his health. He eats well and faithfully visits his doctors at six-month intervals.
To keep his body strong and his mind at ease, Pine also swims at least half a mile every day at The Tennis Club at Monarch Beach, where he urges fellow regulars to “get checked,” preferably at UC Irvine, which he describes as “a safe harbor.”
“When you’re alone in the pool swimming for 30 or 40 minutes, you can do a lot of meditating,” Pine says. “It’s therapeutic—especially in combination with strong faith, my family’s support and the incredible group of doctors and nurses at UC Irvine.
“They saved my life – twice!”