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Published: Monday, 4/7/2003

Serber stays upbeat about chemotherapy

After reflecting on the outpouring of support he has received since undergoing brain surgery, Ryan Serber said something that is both poignant and surreal.

“Thank God I didn't have to attend my own funeral to see how many lives I've touched.”

Serber had a lime-sized tumor removed Feb. 28. Ten days later, his worst fear was confirmed: It was malignant.

This week, the WUPW-TV, Channel 36, anchor will begin a series of chemotherapy/radiation treatments. According to a fact sheet from the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the survival rate for someone with a primitive neuroectodermal tumor ranges from 45 to 65 percent.

Since the surgery, Serber has tried to resume some semblance of a normal lifestyle -- and, amazingly, that includes running five miles a day, which he had to stop doing last week because of a lower-back problem. He works in the WUPW newsroom a few days a week, usually from 2 to 5 p.m.

But those energy-sapping treatments loom.

“The toughest part is yet to come,” he said. “It's scary to think I'm going to have to go through chemo, that I'm going to have to go through radiation, that I'm going to have to get my life in order.”

Serber, 35, has hopes of returning to the anchor desk in May, but he knows the chemotherapy may prevent that. He'll have a better idea after the first phase of treatments. “I just want to see what I can take,” he said.

This was the second health-related shocker to strike the Fox affiliate's newsroom during the past year. News director Jose Suarez was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in August. He recently completed chemotherapy and expects to find out this month if his cancer is in remission. He has maintained a full-time work schedule.

“We were blown away when we learned about Jose. But we were able to see him, in an up-close-and-personal sort of way, go through chemotherapy,” said Joy Lepola, who is filling Serber's role during his absence. “Then, we find out about Ryan's situation -- it's like someone pulled the rug right out from underneath us. It was shocking and, by far, more devastating.”

Serber showed no warning signs of a serious health problem prior to a seizure at his home on Feb. 24. His girlfriend, Carrie Barto, summoned emergency medical personnel.

After the tumor was removed, Serber said the wait for biopsy results was excruciating. He dealt with eight doctors. It's been four weeks since he was given the bad news.

“How do you handle malignant cancer? I don't think you do,” he said. “But I'm looking at this not as a negative but as a positive. Modern medicine is going to get me through it.”

Modern medicine and positive thinking.

“People have been so supportive. I have a huge pile of mail - everyone is telling me to hang in there,” he said. “What keeps me going is knowing that the four to six months [of treatment] will be worth it.”

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