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How A Brain Tumor Changed Pat O’Day and a Juilliard Bound Pianist


For those who grew up in Seattle in the 1960’s, Pat O’Day was rock and roll radio. He went from DJ to program director to general manager of KJR, taking the station to #1. For those of us who didn’t grow up here, many of us still know his voice through his Schick Shadel radio commercials, that urge people to get help for their addictions. A 78-year-old firecracker, who still does real estate on the San Juan Islands and announces hydroplane races, Pat wasn’t feeling like himself over the past year.

“I run my big celebrity golf tournament the first week of June, and two weeks later I didn’t remember it! I said, ‘Oh my goodness!’ My wife said, ‘Pat, everyone’s telling me there’s something seriously wrong with you. You’ve got to get to a hospital and be examined.'”

So to the hospital he went.

“They did a CAT scan and said, ‘Oh my God!’ Here I had this massive tumor in my forehead. It was [between the size] of a golf ball and a tennis ball. There was no pain, it just had grown gradually. Once the surgery was going on, the picture showed the brain was actually purple it was so bruised. Matter of fact, if you tap me on the forehead it still sounds hollow because it will take three or four years for the brain to move back into it’s rightful position.”

Pat’s tumor had been growing slowly, for over 30 years, and luckily he had an amazing doctor to treat him. But it took a second opinion to get there.

“The doctor in the ER department told me I had inoperable cancer and I had a short time to live. But another doctor ran in and said, ‘We better do an MRI and be sure,’ and two and a half hours later they told me, ‘It’s benign! You can be operated on!'”

Dr. Gregory Foltz is the director of the Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.

pat oday
A young Pat O’Day, photo courtesy of Pat O’Day

“Dr. Greg Foltz is one of Seattle’s true treasures. Here is a guy that was on his way to Juilliard School of Music, already drawing crowds for his brilliant concert pianist work. His lady friend died of brain cancer. He changed his entire tact in life. Turned away from Juilliard, went to medical school, became a neurosurgeon and now dedicates himself to the early detection and elimination of cancer of the brain. I mean, what a precious human being. Talk about depth and unselfishness and caring and dedication.”

Dr. Foltz was only 24 when his friend died of brain cancer, and her father was a brain surgeon.

“He mentioned to me, in the process of his grieving, that nothing really was being done,” Dr. Foltz says. “This was 25 years ago. And what needed to happen was, someone needed to dedicate their life to this.”

So he swapped out music for medicine and spent the next 12 years studying to become a brain surgeon. This Saturday is the Seattle Brain Cancer walk, which Ron is emceeing, the biggest fundraiser for brain cancer research in the Northwest and you can still sign up. Both Dr. Foltz and Pat will be there to spread their messages.

“People think it’s senility or early aging, they need to get a CAT scan, they need to get an MRI because those things can be repaired,” says Pat. “Look at me! I walked out of the hospital four days later, I did the hydroplanes on Channel 7 four weeks later. The surgery is life saving.”

Pat says he’s a whole new man.

“Oh my god, it’s given me a new lease on life. It’s turned my clock back about ten years. I didn’t realize the damage it was doing. Memory loss, mental focus was going away and I thought, ‘I’m just aging,’ you know.”

Click here for more information on this Saturday’s Brain Cancer Walk.

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