On February 6, Randy Aldridge delivered the news. Just as he has nearly every weekday since becoming evening news anchor in January 2018, he sat at a desk in the WWAY TV studio and faced the camera. In his best TV voice, without a tear in his eye, he announced that he had cancer.
The next day he started treatment for metastatic squamous cell carcinoma at New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Zimmer Cancer Center.
In a post, Randy wrote that he should have recognized the signs sooner. At 52, he noticed he had to go to the bathroom more frequently. He assumed it was just a natural effect of aging.
Eventually, his need to go interfered with everyday activities. And he decided he should see a doctor. Still, he put it off for days, for weeks.
Finally, he noticed a bump and committed himself to making that call.
But he still didn’t call.
When the bump grew larger and he spent sleepless nights in the bathroom, Randy finally called a doctor.
The doctor ran some tests and gave him an ointment to treat the bump. The ointment didn’t help, and test results indicated abnormal cells.
The doctor’s office called him back for a biopsy. With his husband David and his parents by his side after the procedure, Randy found the courage to ask: “Is it cancer?”
Accepting the Diagnosis
The cancer diagnosis took an emotional toll on Randy and his husband.
The night after the diagnosis, Randy “had a complete breakdown,” he said. “The weight of the diagnosis came crashing down on us.”
Still, Randy kept putting one foot in front of the other, dressing smartly and unflinchingly delivering the evening news. The thousands of residents of southeastern North Carolina who watch him each day saw a cool, confident newsman; they had no idea of his personal turmoil.
While his mom cleaned the house and offered a barrage of encouragement, his dad did chores around the house. It’s the love language of family members who are struggling in their own ways to process the news that their son has cancer.
Meanwhile, Randy started doing his own online research. He found that there is a 37 percent survival rate for his type of cancer.
Understandably worried, he phoned a doctor friend. The doctor explained that, for a 52-year-old male, the survival rate is much higher for Randy’s specific cancer. And he forbade Randy from googling medical advice ever again.
At NHRMC, Randy picked his team of cancer specialists, led by Dr. Emeka Obiora.
“Without exception, he is the best doctor I’ve ever had,” Randy said. “If I didn’t know the words or the process, he explained it. He took a lot of time to make sure I understood what was happening.”
Randy was diagnosed with Stage 3 metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the anus with spread to groin lymph nodes and prostate.
Surgery was not the best option for organ salvage, so his team of Dr. Obiora, Dr. Rex Kiteley and Dr. Andrew Schreiber prescribed chemotherapy and radiation in tandem to destroy the cancer. They can be life-saving treatments, but they are not easy on the body.
The day after he made the shocking announcement on WWAY, he started treatment.
The first day, Randy said, he felt great. He even went out to lunch afterward. As the chemo and radiation worked through his system, though, his outlook changed. A day later, he was unable to get out of bed and was experiencing severe internal distress. He was admitted to NHRMC, where he spent the next seven days.
After he was released from NHRMC, he still felt miserably weak, had no control of his bodily functions, and he cried for days.
On the very best of days, he would muster the strength to leave the house, but he always carried an emergency bag with a change of clothes
Doctors gave Randy a list of foods he could eat to try to keep his strength up. He found that he loved canned peaches. But every smoothie he made left a bad taste in his mouth.
Doctors encouraged him to eat as many calories as he could. But by the time his treatment was complete, he had lost 40 pounds.
Eventually, the 38 days of radiation therapy dwindled to 14 remaining days and then 10 and then 5. And finally, Randy convinced himself that he could survive until the end.
“You climb a different mountain every day,” Randy said. “Every day, you tell yourself that if you can get through this day, that’s the victory.”
On July 3, the day before his birthday, Randy met with Dr. Obiora at the Zimmer Cancer Center.
Once Dr. Obiora announced that was Randy’s follow-up tests showed no trace of the invasive cancer, the staff gathered around to celebrate. They brought Randy a bell, and with a swing of his finger, he created the sound that Dr. Obiora loves to hear – the sound of a cancer patient celebrating the end of treatment.
Randy still has to be very careful with what he puts in his digestive system. And he needs to have six-month check-ups with his cancer team.
But he can finally go back to work. His WWAY family is excited to welcome Randy back to the evening news on Wednesday, August 7.
Randy says he’s nervous about returning to TV. But not because of any health-related concerns. He just wants to make sure he properly conveys his gratitude for the overwhelming support he has received from family, friends, co-workers and viewers.
“I have so many people to thank,” Randy said. “I just want to do justice to all those who helped me. I am truly blessed to have so much support.”
Lessons from Randy
One thing Randy and David did right was to have their end-of-life plans in place. This prevented them from having to make some of life’s biggest decisions in the midst of a devastating diagnosis.
If you’d like to learn more about Healthcare Power of Attorney or a Living Will, visit NHRMC.org.
Randy has been very vocal about his reluctance to seek healthcare when he should have and about the importance of preventive screenings, particularly colonoscopies.
“It’s not difficult to take care of your colorectal health,” Randy said. “Screening is the best way. It’s better to find out sooner than later.”
Watch: Randy Aldridge Talks Cancer Treatment