Actor Gerald McRaney’s diagnosis of lung cancer came about by accident. Here is the story of how it saved his life


was diagnosed with lung cancer is pure fluke, but he uses his story as an opportunity to remind others not to skip their routine physical exams or other doctor’s appointments.

The actor, best known for his Emmy-winning performance as Dr. Nathan Katowski in the NBC family drama It’s us, will now be a regular cast member of CBS’s longtime hit show NCIS: Los Angeles. (He’s been nominated twice for an Emmy.) The new season of NCIS will start on October 10. It is not yet known whether McRaney will return for the sixth and final season of It’s us, which is expected to return in January. In the new NCIS season, McRaney portrayed Hollace Kilbride, a retired Navy Admiral who oversees operations and “keeps everyone on their toes.”

McRaney, who likes to call himself Mac, is of Choctaw and Scottish descent. He was born and raised in Collins, Mississippi, and attended the University of Mississippi in his youth before working in the Southern Oilfields. (This was before his acting career took off.) Mac’s acting career began in the late 1970s, and over the past five decades he has portrayed a wide range of characters – from villains. wicked to endearing fathers.

To name a few, in the 1980s he starred in the beloved crime drama Simon & Simon as Rick Simon, and starred in the series Adult dad in the following decade. McRaney portrayed Russell Greene in the series Promised land, and was also featured on the show Jericho. He also starred in the popular political drama series Card castle representing the manipulative businessman Raymond Tusk. For this role, he was nominated – along with the cast – for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. On the big screen, Mac starred alongside Will Smith and Margot Robbie in the film To concentrate representing the ultimate con artist, Owen.

Actress Delta Burke, left, and her husband actor Gerald McRaney pose in the press room with the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series award for “This is Us” at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards 2017 at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California. David Livingston / Getty Images

Mac has three children: Angus, Jessica and Kate McRaney. He met his third and current wife, actress Delta Burke, at the Publicists Guild Awards; they’ve met before in life as guest Burke starred in Simon & Simon. They have been married for 25 years. The couple divide their time between Los Angeles and Florida; they’re currently moving to a “small town” in Florida, Mac says.

As he prepares for a move across the country, as well as new career paths, McRaney, 74, tells SurvivorNet about his battle with lung cancer and how he found out he had lung cancer. disease. It’s a fluke, but it reminds us all not to forget annual check-ups and other doctor’s appointments.

McRaney’s lung cancer diagnosis

In 2004, McRaney was 57 years old. He was in New Zealand on a hunting trip when he twisted his right knee. It was a minor trauma, he thought at the time, so he continued the journey. But on the way back to Los Angeles, things started to get worse.

“I hobbled around the house for a month,” McRaney told SurvivorNet.

His wife kept telling him to go to the doctor as he continued to limp, so just to silence her (his words) he decided to see an orthopedic doctor. It turned out that he had torn his meniscus on that New Zealand hunting trip. He needed surgery to repair the tear, so his doctor set up a preoperative physical; a chest x-ray was something McRaney needed physically.

Happensance: enter on the left of the stage. McRaney tells us that from his understanding, it wasn’t even his radiologist who spotted the cancer, it was someone who was passing by when his film scans were posted on the light box.

“What is this little stain trying to hide behind his heart?” McRaney tells us the radiologist said. This tiny spot turned out to be tumor 1a – lung cancer; “the smallest they can detect,” says McRaney.

Treat stage 1 lung cancer

After learning of his lung cancer diagnosis, McRaney made an appointment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; the doctors there confirmed everything the doctors in Los Angeles told him about his condition. He then had the tumor successfully removed. Once the surgery was over, it only took about 10 days for McRaney to get back on stage and do what he loves – acting.

“I was very lucky,” he tells us. “If you want something to happen like this, the way it happened to me has been lucky.”

For two years after the operation, McRaney had to return to his doctor every six months to make sure the cancer had not come back. Now he goes back once a year for a check-up.

“Fortunately, there has been no sign of anything for 16 years now – knock on wood and thank goodness there have been no recurrences,” McRaney said.

Gerald McRaney as Hollace Kilbride, right, on ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’. Michael Yarish / CBS © 2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

The importance of early detection of lung cancer

“Lung cancer kills more patients than the prostate, colon, breast and pancreas combined,” Dr. Joseph Friedberg, head of the division of thoracic surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told SurvivorNet. in Baltimore, “and the reason is it’s completely asymptomatic. It doesn’t cause any problem until it’s spread somewhere.

This is exactly what happened in McRaney’s case; he tells us that he wasn’t looking for lung cancer, that he didn’t even have any symptoms. There is no way to tell when he would have started showing symptoms and how advanced the cancer might have been by then; and that’s one of the scariest things about lung cancer.

In diagnosing lung cancer, symptoms often come late

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common type and accounts for about 85% of cases, then there is small cell lung cancer, which is less common. , but tends to grow faster than non-small cell; it is also treated very differently.

There are also four main stages or groups of lung cancer, which are based on the size and location of the tumor; if there is lymph node involvement; and whether the cancer has spread outside the lung. Stage 1 – the stage McRaney was diagnosed with – means the tumor is 4 centimeters or less in size and is confined to a single point on the lung. In stage 1 lung cancer, there is no lymph node involvement and the cancer has not spread; it also means that the cancer was caught early.

“To truly cure patients, we have to find the disease at (a) earlier stage,” Dr. Brendon Stiles, head of thoracic surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told SurvivorNet. “We know that with screening we can find about 60 (percent) to 80 percent of early-stage cases. Those (patients) that we know we can cure (cancer) by surgery, or sometimes by surgery and a combination of other therapies. “

Lung cancer screening has come a long way, but only 10% of eligible people benefit

As with all cancers, Stiles says, doctors treat patients much better when the disease is caught at an early stage, ideally in stage 1 or even when the cancer is pre-invasive. This highlights McRaney’s overall message: Don’t forget your annual checkups or other doctor’s appointments. It could mean your life.

“That would be my note to people all over the world: annual physical exams could really do the trick; if you can figure these things out early enough, you might stand a chance, ”McRaney tells us. “Lung cancer statistics are not the best. I wasn’t looking for it, I had no symptoms, I just got lucky. But if you get this physique every year, your chances of survival increase incredibly. “

Learn more about SurvivorNet’s rigorous medical review process.


Sydney Schaefer is a reporter for SurvivorNet in New York. Read more


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