For Chuck Amato, cancer status looks good

For former longtime Florida State assistant coach Chuck Amato, the milestones on the road to his recovery from throat cancer have been anything but mundane.

He's back at his local Gold's Gym working out for about an hour in the mornings. He's no longer living on BOOST Plus and Ensure drinks. He's eating solid foods again, like a western omelet for breakfast and pasta — his favorite — for dinner, and regaining some of the weight he lost.

Best of all, his checkups are showing no evidence of the small cancerous tumor on a tonsil that necessitated six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy at Shands in Gainesville.

"Things are going well," Amato said Tuesday, the first time he's publicly discussed a situation he shockingly announced in a statement FSU released for him in mid January. "I got a CAT Scan about a month ago and everything was good. I had another checkup last Friday. I'm fortunate. I'm just totally fortunate that the type of cancer I had was a curable cancer."

Not that he wasn't initially taken aback by something that began innocently enough as a slightly sore throat. Back in late November, the flu was going around Tallahassee and he figured he might be coming down with a case, too. As he strolled through the Seminoles' training room, he asked a team physician if he could take a look at his throat. He didn't see anything alarming and, not being a fan of pills, he passed on a prescription for an antibiotic.

A month later, as the Seminoles were preparing for their Jan. 1 matchup against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, Amato's throat still was scratchy and asked the team doctor to look at him. Again. Nothing. Again.

"Why I asked the next question only the good Lord knows," Amato said. "I said, 'Should I have a specialist look at it?' "

Just before Christmas, he did and, viewing his throat through a scope inserted through his nose, something was spotted. On Jan. 5, he got the diagnosis, one similar to what Denver Nuggets coach George Karl received about the same time, that he had a cancer and that it was treatable in the vast majority of cases.

"When I heard that, I was not afraid one bit," Amato said, adding there's no history of the cancer in his family and he neither smokes nor chews tobacco.

He decided to go to Gainesville and see renowned specialist, Dr. William Mendenhall. During the next six weeks (he rented a place there), he had 36 treatments of radiation — twice a day, five days a week — and six treatments of chemo — once a week.

Although many patients lose 20, 30 pounds during that regimen (many need a feed tube), Amato said he only lost about seven pounds thanks to six bottles of the 360-calorie energy drinks a day. He was still working out three times a week. But less than a week after he completed the treatment and returned to Tallahassee, he got sick with a virus and lost another 14 pounds in a six days.

He then went about three weeks without working out and, by then, the cumulative effect of the radiation, made him so tired he couldn't sit and read a book without dozing off, a frustrating but necessary part of the recovery. On April 15, he got the good news in a CAT Scan.

"I'll never be afraid of income tax day again," he said in his same old gravelly voice. "It's a day of celebration when they tell you everything looks great."

Amato, 63, said he will have another test in June and undoubtedly periodic checks for the rest of his life. But life is returning to normalcy, except for the first time in years, he's not involved in football.

"I want to coach. I'm going nuts right now," he said. "My whole goal was to get healthy and that has happened. Next fall. There'll be jobs open and I'll go get a job."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

For Chuck Amato, cancer status looks good 05/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 5:32pm]

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