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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Westminster, CO

    Default Veteran TV Sports Anchor Vic Lombardi Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer


    Vic Lombardi has made a living out of talking, and he’s about to begin his most important dialogue

    The perfect​​ knot at the top of his tie is the last piece of the fashion puzzle for Vic Lombardi.

    The 49-year-old Altitude TV reporter-analyst-host, who was recently named the Colorado Broadcaster of the Year, cuts a suave figure when he strolls into the Pepsi Center ahead of a Nuggets game. His suits, crisp and well-tailored with perfectly folded pocket squares sticking out from the breast pockets, would help him stand out if his gregarious personality didn’t jump at you first. His salt-and-pepper hair parts firmly to the right, rarely a strand out of place. His leather shoes shine almost as bright as the smile he employs as a way of getting people to open up beyond the constant drone of clichés professional sports can offer.

    The knot is the finishing piece of the package, a formal touch for a man who loathes to take himself too seriously. Lombardi was standing in front of his mirror back on Feb. 1, making those final adjustments to his tie as he prepared to drive downtown to work that night’s showdown between the Rockets and Nuggets.

    It was 4:25 p.m. His phone rang.

    He’ll never forget what came next.

    “I get a call from my doctor, and he says I have cancer,” Lombardi said. “You’re told that and you’re like, ‘No. Nah, you messed up. Nah. You have no clue what you’re talking about.’ So I said, ‘Are you sure about this?’ He said, ‘Yes.’”

    It was less than three weeks ago that Lombardi was told he has an aggressive form of prostate cancer, a stunning diagnosis he is still trying to comprehend. He’ll have surgery Feb. 28 to remove his prostate, and his recovery will take at least a month. Before that, on Thursday, he’ll undergo further testing to assess whether there is any spread of the cancer, which would require further treatment.

    “When something like this happens you just don’t believe it,” he said. “You wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘Oh my God, I have cancer.’ It’s a crazy thing.”

    Lombardi has been a leading Colorado media voice since he returned to Denver in 1998, taking a job as a sportscaster at CBS4 — where he would win 28 regional Emmy Awards, 14 for best sports anchor — just as the Broncos made their run to a second straight Super Bowl. He has hosted his own radio shows, emceed countless charity events, built lasting relationships with the region’s biggest players and coaches and cemented himself as a leading voice on the city’s sports scene. In his role at Altitude, which he has held since late 2015, Lombardi has creatively pushed the envelope to find new ways to talk about the games and teams that are nestled into the fabric of this region.

    “The way that he thinks about things and sees things from a professional standpoint, nobody else would be able to pull off what Vic pulls off in a lot of situations,” said Altitude TV reporter and analyst Katy Winge, who works with Lombardi in her capacity covering the Nuggets. “He does his job in a way people can interact with it, and that’s what makes him so relatable. He’s asking questions and interacting with players in the same way a fan would.”

    Through more than two decades of award-winning work in the town that raised him, Lombardi has built a platform by talking about sports. Now, he is using that hard-earned stage to speak about something else as he begins his most important dialogue yet.

    “One out of seven men — one out of seven, OK? — is going to have prostate cancer,” Lombardi said, a number supported by the American Cancer Society. “If I told you you could prevent that — or at least fight it — why wouldn’t you do it? Why wouldn’t you at least check? These are odds and stats that we don’t think about. We don’t care. It’s something we don’t consider because we consider ourselves indestructible. At least I did.”

    Back in December, as 2018 came to a close, Lombardi decided to schedule a physical. He hadn’t had one in a while and his previous primary care physician had retired. His new doctor began going down his list of questions. He asked about family history. He went through one inquiry after another, assessing whether there were any health issues or concerns his new patient was experiencing. Each question from his doctor came with the same reply from Lombardi: “No.”

    “I had no issues, no pain, nothing. I was arrogant about how I felt,” he said. “I’ve never felt better. I’m almost 50 years old and feel like I’m 22. Health-wise, I exercise all the time, and I feel great. It’s the prototypical, ‘God, there’s nothing wrong with me.’ I got a little cocky about it, to be honest with you.”

    Still, with Lombardi’s 50th birthday on the horizon, his doctor suggested a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which is a blood test used to detect the presence of a protein produced by both cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate — a small gland below the bladder. In January, a couple weeks after that meeting with his new doctor, Lombardi got a call. His physician told him he had elevated PSA levels. He needed to see a urologist.

    “You have to understand, I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about,” Lombardi said. “I don’t even know what that means. I say, ‘OK, I’ll go to the urologist. That’s fine.’”

    Lombardi underwent a prostate exam and biopsy. It was one seemingly unending week later the results came back in that phone call that turned his world upside down. He kept telling himself there must have been a mistake. It was a Friday and his urologist told him to be in his office Monday morning. That left a weekend, with Lombardi in Denver as the Nuggets headed on a road trip, to Google everything about prostate cancer the internet has to offer, a 48-hour-long rabbit hole he wouldn’t recommend.

    “That was hell,” Lombardi said.

    But something began materializing for Lombardi even in those early hours after his diagnosis, a pressing need to share his story, to help other men in the community he loves become more educated about their own health. He quickly began talking to people in the sports world he knew — a talented local golfer, longtime Nuggets manager equipment Sparky Gonzalez, former Nuggets coach George Karl, among them — who had lived with prostate cancer, creating his own crash course on the topic.

    Lombardi sat down for lunch last week with Karl, who survived prostate cancer in 2005 and throat cancer in 2010. The coach and reporter became friendly during Karl’s successful run as Denver’s coach from 2005 to 2013 and they have stayed in touch since Karl’s tenure ended, often interacting at charity functions or sporting events.

    “You gravitate to guys who are the ones who are truthful, and I had a lot of respect for how he worked,” Karl said. “When we talked it’s trying to make sure you are aware of the journey ahead. There will be difficult days, but it’s also showing confidence in him that he’s strong enough to get through this.”

    That Lombardi has turned his attention to raising awareness about prostate cancer, even before he has gone through surgery, Karl said, will have a strong impact.

    “I think his desire is to show a program that will help you not get cancer, the proactivity of early testing,” the 2013 NBA coach of the year said. “In a lot of ways I’m proud of the cancer world because it is doing a lot of good things and moving in a good direction, but it can always do better. When you’re told you have cancer, there are a lot of up-and-down days. I think it’s admirable that he already wants, even before he’s had surgery, to think about (being an advocate for early testing). It shows the true character Vic has.”

    That Lombardi is soaking up all the information he can so that he can use his platform to encourage and support others isn’t a surprise to those who know him well.

    “With Vic it’s never about Vic. It’s how can I take something that’s happening to somebody else and make it better?” said Peter Schaffer, Lombardi’s longtime friend and agent. “My 18-year-old daughter got diagnosed with cancer 14 months ago. He was the first person at our house, he and (Lombardi’s wife) Terri. They were there all the time. It’s sort of the ironic twist of it.”

    The way Lilian Schaffer handled the treatment related to her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma inspired Lombardi. He watched the teenager endure rounds of chemotherapy and then go ride her horses, perpetually projecting positivity. Schaffer has already seen his friend of more than 20 years battle his own diagnosis in the same way.

    “He saw how she never once complained, and it’s the same thing with Vic,” Schaffer said. “You never once heard, ‘Why me?’ It’s, ‘OK, we are here. So let’s stay positive and deal with it because bitching and moaning isn’t going to help anything.’ I don’t know how she did that, but she did. I think Vic saw that and said, ‘That’s right.’ * He might have spent an hour feeling sorry for himself, and then it was full steam ahead as far as beating it and drawing attention and awareness to both cure and diagnosis.”

    That humility has helped make Lombardi a popular figure in Denver for more than 20 years. He grew up in Denver and attended Holy Family High School back when it was located on the north side of the city before it moved to a new campus in Broomfield. When he was in junior high, Lombardi would sneak headphones into class so that he could listen to Irv Brown and Joe Williams on sports-talk radio. Then he’d go home and watch Ron Zappolo and Les Shapiro break down the day in sports on the local evening news.

    “I’ve known I wanted to do this since I was 10 years old,” Lombardi said.

    A journalism teacher at Holy Family helped Lombardi improve as a writer, bolstering his application for Notre Dame, which he attended following one year at the University of Colorado. After graduating from Notre Dame, he spent seven combined years at stations in Austin, Texas and then Phoenix — two locations that offered ample opportunities to improve his golf game — but he always felt the pull of home.

    “Denver was one of those markets where everyone wanted to work here because it’s such a good television market,” he said. “So I’d always send tapes and keep my contacts, and I finally got my opportunity, in 1998, to come home.”

    In the two decades since he returned, Lombardi has used his disarming style to create entertaining interactions with the players he covers. He’s fond of calling his own face “punchable.” His ability to poke fun at himself, such as when he interviewed Nuggets center Nikola Jokic while wearing a mask during NBA All-Star Weekend in 2017, makes him relatable to athletes and fans alike. He’s accessible to everyone because he shares the lighter side of the sports he covers on social media, creating humor out of the otherwise mundane.

    But if it’s the self-deprecating, sports-should-be-fun approach to his job that has made him a household name in Denver, it’s another side of Lombardi that will fuel him as he wades into all that comes next.

    “Vic is one of the toughest sons of a bum you’re ever gonna meet,” Schaffer said. “If anyone is going to kick cancer in the ass, it’s him.”

    Back in October, before the start of the NBA season, the Nuggets held a skills challenge for members of the media. The final part of the afternoon’s event was a series of pickup games. In the first game, Lombardi, playing against a group of mostly younger media members, kept beating opponents down the floor in transition, sprinting for outlet passes. When the first game ended, and men one and two decades his junior walked to the sideline to get water and take a break, Lombardi, who had barely cracked a sweat, was incredulous.

    “What the hell are you guys doing?” he said. “Get over here and play!”

    That competitive nature has always fueled Lombardi, who still plays basketball at the Denver Athletic Club on a weekly basis, golfs regularly and is constantly searching for a physical challenge. In September, he and Altitude colleague Kyle Keefe walked 82 miles, from Fort Collins to Denver, over three days to raise money for Kroenke Sports Charities to benefit several community programs. Lombardi kept pushing the pace, filming much of the experience — like he usually does — on Periscope.

    “We both want to be secretly better than the other one,” said Keefe, who said he spent a year tirelessly recruiting Lombardi to join him at Altitude. “It’s a nice little competition that we’re open about, but that we secretly appreciate the other one for what they do, and I believe we push each other into, ‘OK, what hasn’t been done? Instead of one of us doing it, why don’t we push each other.’ I don’t think I could have walked 82 miles by myself. No way. I don’t think Vic could have either.”

    For Keefe, the walk was something more than a made-for-media stunt. When the phones were put away, during long stretches of one-lane highway that featured miles of nothing but cattle fields, no topic was off-limits. They talked about life and death. They talked about family. They talked about the battle Keefe’s wife, Dana, had with breast cancer.

    “After we got it done, we had talked about every personal thing you could talk about,” Keefe said. “It took Vic and I’s relationship, which was already strong, to a brotherhood.”

    It’s from that place that Keefe is providing his support to his close friend. He’ll be with Lombardi after surgery Feb. 28 and the days to follow, ready to take on another journey that will be more of a challenge than even an 82-mile walk could provide. For as much as Keefe hopes Lombardi’s platform can indeed help spread the important message for men to get their PSA levels checked early and stay on top of their health, he also hopes his friend can step away from Twitter and the city’s churning sports scene, and let his loved ones wrap their arms around him.

    “This is a process that is as much mental as it is physical, and how you deal with it is completely up to you,” Keefe said, “but you have to use the people who love you the most or you’ll lose yourself in this process.”

    Lombardi last week talked his bosses into letting him go, as previously scheduled, to the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities in Charlotte. He didn’t want to spend another weekend at home letting his mind spin. So he worked tirelessly over four days — “He doesn’t have an off button,” Keefe said — to provide a perspective of the Nuggets’ participation at the event in his own unique style.

    But when Lombardi called Keefe upon landing back in Denver on Monday, he told his friend that even amid the pomp-and-circumstance distraction of the weekend, thoughts of his diagnosis had consumed him.

    “It’s heartbreaking, man,” Keefe said. “It’s heartbreaking to see a guy who is a role model for me — I know I tease him and give shit, but I love him — be vulnerable. I forget about sports. And I want Vic to forget about sports and Twitter and the Broncos and the Nuggets and all of that. Vic has to take a break from who he is in the community and deal with Vic the person.”

    Part of the rub, Keefe knows, is that the love Lombardi has for his community, and the role he has within that community, is very much a part of who he is as a person. The two things aren’t easily separated. And the impact Lombardi has on the people who watch and listen to him has given his sizable platform greater importance as he begins to wade through this life-changing process.

    Last week, 12 days after he had received his diagnosis and one night before he was set to travel to Charlotte, Lombardi spent a night of work at the Pepsi Center letting 20-year-old Yariv Ben-Naim, of Monument, shadow him during the Altitude broadcast of the Kings-Nuggets game. Lombardi had met Ben-Naim, who is on the autism spectrum, one month earlier at a Special Olympics event. Lombardi was blown away by Ben-Naim’s ability to hear the date of anyone’s birthday and tell them what day of the week the next one will fall on. Ben-Naim, who is studying sports management at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, also stunned Lombardi with his ability to recall the score and date of every Nuggets game this season and recite the team’s highest scorer in each of those games, part of his fascination with statistics and sports.

    For Lombardi, to just have Ben-Naim follow him behind the scenes that night wouldn’t be enough. Instead, the veteran broadcaster turned his platform over to his new friend, conducting a live pregame segment on Altitude TV side by side with Ben-Naim.

    “He was like, ‘I want to share this kid’s gifts with the world,’” Winge said. “The way he looked at it was, ‘This kid is amazing and he deserves to be seen.’ The way that Vic sees the world, I wish more people would see the world like he does. It’s amazing to see him interact with human beings because that’s what he’s so good at.”

    His ability to connect to people, to relate in ways both big and small, is what Lombardi will lean on now. His experience with prostate cancer will be public and transparent. He’ll discuss his fears out in the open. He’ll use humor to share the new world he’s been dropped into with a thud, and he’ll use his own unique style to talk to men about their health.

    “I can’t just go invisible,” he said. “And talking about it, I’m not embarrassed. That’s who I am.”

    One thing is unlikely to change, even as everything around him does. Vic Lombardi is going to keep talking. And he’s about to begin his most important dialogue yet.



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