In 2015, John Tesh was diagnosed with a rare form of prostate cancer and given 18 months to live.
Five years and another (2017) laparoscopic cancer treatment later, Tesh, now 67 and healthy, details his fight in stark, uncompromising detail in “Relentless: Unleashing a Life of Purpose, Grit, and Faith” (Thomas Nelson), a candid and revealing memoir that takes readers on a journey through his life (growing up in Garden City, Long Island) and long career in radio, television and music.
“Part of what I was trying to do with [writing about] the cancer stuff was to be of service,” says Tesh, the former “Entertainment Tonight” co-host (1986-96) and acclaimed musician (“Live at Red Rocks”) who hosts the syndicated radio show “Intelligence for Your Life.” He’s been married to actress Connie Sellecca for 28 years and, for those with long memories, worked at WCBS/Ch. 2 in the mid-’70s as the station’s youngest on-air reporter.
“When I was diagnosed there were very few books out there or other stories of a similar type of cancer,” says Tesh, who underwent surgery in the summer of 2015 followed by chemo and radiation.[He was re-treated in 2017 when the cancer returned.] “So that’s one of the reasons I went through all the details [in the book], but also to show the love story between me and Connie.
“If it hadn’t been for her I probably would’ve taken myself out.”
Tesh shared his thoughts about “Relentless” and about the arc of his career in a wide-ranging interview with The Post.
How did you handle the initial cancer diagnosis?
I was numb and everyone else around me was really upset and crying, so I thought I was going to have to somehow “man up.” But I did the wrong thing. I basically spoke death over myself … I made plans, made sure nobody told any of our radio stations — I thought maybe they would replace our show — I was making plans for [stepson] Gib [Gerard] to replace me and I was having conversations every day with my business manager about insurance and funeral plots. And I was drinking at the time because I was so miserable. So I became a cancer patient. I came apart at the seams. But Connie is a real “Snap out of it!” girl, like Cher in “Moonstruck,” and we dug into a lot of research and read a lot of books. Unless you have someone really helping you like I did you’re ready to strap on the kettle bell and jump in the pool because you can’t get to the other side of it. What’s really sad is that, once you’ve entered this world, you learn that a lot of spouses have split up. Because prostate cancer is in your “engine room,” it’s tough on your body and a lot of couples don’t survive it. I told [my doctors] that if couples want to have that conversation with us, we will — and we’ve done this many times, telling them how we got through it.
Do you still have to go for a checkup every six months?
Connie and I both felt that if I were to go back in for radiation and a scan, especially the type they have to do on me, which is isotopes and bone scans, that would case unbelief. Connie said, and I agree with her, that part of believing that you’re healed is not just faith, but also getting rid of unbelief, which comes at 2 o’clock in the morning like, “Is there anything growing inside my body right now?” So I agreed to one blood test [in August 2018] and all my tumor markers were clear, all the inflammation in my body was clear. That was the moment when I knew that this practice of manifesting divine healing in my life was something that was real. We don’t attend church on Sundays anymore — we go to sub-acute nursing facilities to lay hands on the sick and we’ve had some amazing results in teaching people how not to speak death over themselves. I got cancer the same exact year almost to the month my dad died of cancer. DNA is not programmed like that — I manifested that cancer in my body because I worried about it my whole life.
You talk in the book about your depression. Did you realize from a young age that you suffered from depression?
I couldn’t figure out what was going on. In the 1950s, Betty Friedan wrote about this in “The Feminine Mystique,” about women in suburbia, my mom being one of them. I was born in 1952 and women were told to quit their jobs and raise their kids and just be there at the behest of their husband. My dad was a World War II vet and spent a lot of his life drinking scotch whiskey, so there was that dysfunction. My sisters were much older than me, so they took the brunt of a lot of that, but nobody in my family really talked about anything, so that causes co-dependency, right? I was isolated; I wasn’t popular in school and spent a lot of time in the basement making things and destroying things and recording people’s conversations. I felt like I was shut out.
Is there anything you wish you had included in the book?
Connie and I were talking about this, and maybe I can do it in a revised edition. I went through a terrible period of stage fright, which is odd when you think that I’m doing 30 concerts a year and playing in front of 5,000 people a night. I was at the point where I would lose feeling in my left arm and I went through a whole process using therapy and experts to get over it. It took me four years to do that.