Doing the right thing for the right reason
Chet McAndrews has lived a full life. He was general manager of a restaurant on Cannery Row and has worked in construction as a heavy equipment operator. He loves his motorcycle, has finessed sport fishing to a fine art, and spent a year in Vietnam, exposed to both the herbicide Agent Orange and trauma that is still vivid in his mind.
It is the latter experience, he says, that both contributed to his prostate cancer and helped him get through it.
After diagnosis in late 2011, McAndrews began eight weeks of radiation treatment at Community Hospital in February.
“Chet came in for treatment looking like a motorcycle rider from the James Dean era,” says Dr. Bradley Tamler, the radiation oncologist who oversaw his radiation therapy treatments. “He had a moderately aggressive prostate cancer, and we treated him with advanced image-guided therapy. He tolerated the radiation excellently, without developing complications.”
McAndrews says his only persistent symptoms are fatigue and hot flashes.
“My wife sympathizes with me and laughs when I apologize for ever having teased her about hot flashes, while I keep changing my drenched shirts,” he says. “Otherwise, I have felt no pain. Mostly, I try not to think about it.”
Instead, McAndrews focuses his attention on his annual Monterey Bay Veterans, Inc., Wheelchair Salmon Fishing Derby, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last spring, soon after he completed radiation treatment. Using 28 private and 4 commercial boats, McAndrews and other volunteers took 150 veterans from all over California out on the bay to fish for salmon, followed by a barbecue and prize ceremony.
The annual fishing outing “began on a bet and a dare,” says McAndrews, “with six guys I hosted from the VA hospital in Palo Alto. All these guys had spinal cord injuries, and there I was, back from the same war but totally physically capable. One guy was a sport fisherman who, after a bad parachute jump, was paralyzed from the waist down. His friends promised they’d take him salmon fishing when he got out, but they weren’t sure how to do it. We set it up, and two years later started our own organization.”
McAndrews actually runs his program year-round; it includes whale watching for underprivileged children, as well as sport fishing and SCUBA diving certification for disabled veterans and memorials at sea with full honor guard for veterans who have passed away.
“You take a guy who is paralyzed from the waist down and put him in water,” says McAndrews, “and he is just like anyone else. It’s great therapy for him, mentally and physically, as it is for me. This whole cancer thing is minor compared to all I have seen in others, and it makes the stuff I’ve experienced seem simple. But life isn’t simple; you just have to trudge on. When you’re doing the right thing for the right reason, at the right time, it can’t go wrong. It’s a motto I live by.”