John Tesh Says This Was the Sign That His Cancer Had Returned
The cancer survivor says he initially ignored the troubling symptom.
A jack-of-all-trades in the world of entertainment, John Tesh is a pianist, pop music composer, radio host, and television presenter. He's won six Emmys and released four gold albums, been nominated for two Grammy Awards, and even scored an Associated Press award for investigative journalism—an enviable career by any standard. But in 2015, the star was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer and told he had just 18 months to live. Beating the odds, Tesh overcame the disease and resumed his life. However, his cancer came back in 2020—this time bringing new and surprising symptoms and challenges. Read on to find out how he learned his cancer had returned, and how he's learned to cope with the help of his wife and his faith.
Doctors first found the cancer during a routine check-up.
Before his prostate cancer diagnosis, Tesh says he was happy and healthy. "I was sort of going merrily along in my life," he told Coping with Cancer Magazine in 2021. "[I was] 63 years old, had two grandkids, and I had done some stuff in my life I was happy with," he recalled. But when the entertainer visited his doctor's office for his annual check-up, his doctor noticed something suspicious during a digital rectal exam.
A test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood came back within normal range, as did Tesh's other bloodwork. (High levels of PSA may indicate the presence of prostate cancer, although other conditions can also cause heightened PSA.) Still, his healthcare team followed up with a sonogram and biopsy to be on the safe side. These tests revealed that Tesh was suffering from a rare form of aggressive prostate cancer. Doctors told the star that he had just 18 months to live, and advised him to get his affairs in order.
Tesh knew his cancer had returned when he had severe pain in his pelvis.
Fortunately, Tesh outlived that original prognosis—but five years after his original diagnosis, the cancer returned. Though he had already been through one harrowing health episode, he still initially dismissed the symptoms, attributing them to his age. "In October of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, all of a sudden I started feeling some really serious pain in my pelvis," he told Good Morning America in 2021. "I thought, at my age, maybe I just pulled a groin muscle. I started ignoring it. But then it got worse and worse and I couldn't sleep," he shared.
Doctors quickly determined that these symptoms were not to be ignored. "I went for a scan and it turned out that the cancer had returned with a vengeance. The scans showed that there were tumors wrapped around my pelvis, and one of them was strangling my right kidney, so it got serious really quickly," he explained.
Tesh hit a low point during his first battle with cancer.
After his initial diagnosis in 2015, Tesh underwent a prostatectomy to remove his entire prostate. That was followed by androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), a form of hormone replacement therapy. The treatment came with a range of unpleasant side effects, including night sweats, insomnia, weight loss, and fatigue—but Tesh said the biggest toll it took was on his mental health. "For someone who is [being treated for prostate cancer], it's the ADT that is really life-changing. It causes a tremendous amount of depression."
As a terminal cancer patient, Tesh says pain medication was easy to come by, and he went through a dark period when he was abusing painkillers and drinking heavily. "It was a bad time. I was a bad father. I was a bad husband," Tesh told Coping.
"I fought hard in the beginning. Then when the cancer came back, it was like someone had slammed a door in my face," he told GMA host Michael Strahan. "Hope was not something that was prevalent in my life at that point."
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His wife, and their shared faith, lifted him from the depths of despair.
Tesh says that at his lowest point, his wife of 30 years, Connie Sellecca, intervened with some much-needed tough love. "At a certain point, Connie and I came toe to toe," Tesh told Strahan. "She basically sent the message to me clearly that she was not going to abide this. She had invested in me and the relationship and my health, and really sort of gave me an ultimatum that I needed to get straightened out," he recalled.
Tesh says he received that message loud and clear, and it helped him refocus on finding more positive ways of coping. "From that point on I realized that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself in the middle of my pity party, and needed to start making my way through the suffering," he said. "I knew that with Connie's help and with God's cooperation, I could see myself on the other side of it—and that's so important. I stopped talking about myself as a cancer patient. Together we would pray with the understanding that God wanted me well," added Tesh.
Today, the star says he's still fighting to preserve his health, but is doing so from a more positive place. "I'm back in business," he told Coping. "I still have some tumor tissue, and one of my kidneys is pretty much dead," he acknowledged. "But it hasn't stopped me. I'm still going," he said.