Geoff Fox battling cancer, while keeping youthful optimism
For many years we in Connecticut were kept informed and entertained by Geoff Fox, that boyishly buoyant TV weather guy. And now, at 66 and living 3,000 miles away in California, he is still proving day by day that he hasn’t lost that youthful optimism — even while battling pancreatic cancer.
Fox, who left Connecticut three years ago, announced the diagnosis on his blog (www.geofffox.com) Sept. 1 under this headline: “Not so good news about me.
“I’ve been pretty quiet recently and thought you should know why,” wrote Fox, who is rarely quiet.
“A few months of indigestion brought me to my doctor’s office,” he continued. “Standard tests were performed which revealed masses in my kidney and pancreas.”
An ultrasound probe followed. “The results weren’t good. At the moment the cancer in my pancreas is contained within the mass. It doesn’t look like it’s spread. Those are good signs but pancreatic cancer is relentless and long-term survival isn’t common.”
He said he was facing major surgery (something called a Whipple procedure), chemotherapy and radiation. And then he started cracking jokes because that’s what Fox always does, no matter what: “This will slow me down, but shouldn’t stop me. We can all laugh when I go bald.” (Since then he has learned the chemotherapy drug he is taking doesn’t cause hair loss.)
Fox signed off that day in September by saying: “The road ahead is scary. But it is what it is and I’m not ready to give up.”
A few weeks ago, when a reader of mine tipped me off about Fox’s situation, I started following his blog, which he calls “My permanent record.” It describes his good days and bad days, the roller-coaster ride that one takes when fighting cancer.
Then, on Dec. 9 came some good news. Fox’s oncologist delivered the results of some recent blood work: “We see no cancer.”
Fox explained the finding: no pancreatic cancer markers were found in his blood. All the visible cancer has been removed.
“My treatment will continue,” Fox noted. “Chemo and radiation will keep me busy for six months. The problem with pancreatic cancer is it never fully goes away. My body has a genetic disposition to produce these rogue cancer cells. It’s produced them before. It can produce them again.”
But he added: “I don’t think it’s possible to have gotten better news than I got today.”
Knowing that Fox remains a popular personality in his old home state and that people would want to find out what’s going on with him, I called his home in Irvine, Calif. As I expected, he was immediately receptive to being interviewed. It helps that we go way back as colleagues in the Connecticut news business and he worked with my wife at WTNH News 8 in New Haven.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he told me during our first brief conversation in which I expressed my concerns. “But it still can change on a dime.”
Fox then said something that tells us what he’s up against: “Pancreatic cancer has a mortality rate of 90 percent over five years.”
But he’s determined to be that 1 in 10 who beats this thing.
“My goal is to live,” he said when I called him back. “I’m enjoying life too much. I’m not ready to go.”
As we spoke, he was riding (not driving) in the car with his wife, Helaine, and their daughter, Stefanie, who works in Hollywood. They were on their way to chow down at an In-N-Out Burger (wrapped in lettuce, no bun).
We discussed his recent good news. Given that he has “a very virulent form of cancer,” he said what his doctor told him was “phenomenal.”
But he said he has begun chemotherapy. After that comes the radiation: “Five days a week for six weeks. Then another three rounds of chemo.”
Reasserting the upbeat, Fox joked: “If you need to lose 35 pounds, I recommend the cancer diet! I was pretty heavy, over 190 pounds. Now I’m 160, near my high school weight. God, I look lanky! And they say cancer has no benefits! Come on!”
When I asked him why he chose to go public about his medical situation, he said, “I’m just a public person. The support I’m getting on Facebook and social media is amazing to me, that people have been so nice, even though I’m no longer back there in Connecticut.”
Fox told me he is not a religious man. But he added, “When people say, ‘I’m praying for you,’ I have to stop and think about that. Here are people who are willing to bring my name up in their most private moments with God. How can you not be humbled when people are willing to do that?”
Fox said he has also heard from people who hadn’t been in touch with him for 40 or 50 years. That’s one of the lessons he has learned from his experience with cancer: “If you’re sitting there saying, ‘There’s someone I haven’t spoken to for such a long time; should I get in touch with them?’ Get in touch!”
Fox offered another piece of advice: “People wonder, ‘What should I say if a friend has cancer?’ Whatever you say is appropriate. Your friend doesn’t want you to walk away from them. That’s when your friends want you to reach out to them.”
He said his wife and daughter also have been unwavering in their support. “I think it’s been stressful on them,” he told me, then looked over at his wife in the car to verify this.
A moment later, he was back on the phone. “Yeah, it’s been very stressful on her. We’ve been married 33 years.”
It’s also been difficult for his father, Harold, who lives in Milwaukee. (Fox’s mother died a few years ago.) “I talk to him every day. He’s 91. Last Sunday he said, ‘You know, Geoffrey, the problem with getting old is you see so many people die.’ And he was looking at the same thing with his son.”
“My father’s goal in life is to go to his great-grandson’s bar mitzvah; Judah is 6 now, so we’re talking about seven years off. I said I’d go with him and bring him a drink. That’s my goal.”
Fox added this about his dad: “He and I have an ability to heal. I inherited it from him. It’s a great gift.”
Fox proudly said: “I’m healing like a 16-year-old boy!”
He’s also proud he missed “only a few shows” after undergoing that Whipple surgery. That’s right, he’s still working, still reporting on the weather for a TV station — in Nebraska.
“It’s called News Channel Nebraska. I record it in my home studio. Over the course of a day I do 21 different weather cuts. I do them in my studio by myself. It’s all automated.”
“I built my studio! I’m a very techno, nerdy, geeky kind of guy. I converted my garage into a full TV studio. I can go live on the air anywhere.”
Asked how he can cover the weather in Nebraska while living in California, Fox replied, “I’m privy to a firehose of data.”
Several times during our conversation Fox said he misses Connecticut and his friends there, although he doesn’t miss the cold weather. He told me, “We’re in California to stay” but then added, “If there were an opportunity to do the weather in Connecticut, I’d be ecstatic about that. The people in Connecticut gave me the most wonderful life.”
He logged 27 years with Channel 8 but in 2011, quite abruptly, his contract wasn’t renewed. Fox is still miffed about that. He went over to WTIC (Fox CT) for 19 months but also lost that job because of inappropriate use of social media (which played out publicly).
He’s not thinking about any of that now. “My biggest goal is to get past the cancer, to get well and enjoy life.”
Fox told me he has never once said, “Why me?” during his cancer struggle. “At no point have I been scared of death. I’ve been scared of procedures. But I can say now; I can deal with pain.”
He tells other people with cancer, “I don’t think they should be scared. Some of it has been painful, some of it has been demoralizing. But you can do it!”
Contact Randall Beach at email@example.com or 203-680-9345.