TODAY   |  January 11, 2011

Michael Douglas: Cancer put ‘timeline’ on my life

In an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer, the actor said that the odds are that he has his throat cancer “beat” – but that it reminded him of the brevity of life. He also criticized paparazzi who he said took “macabre enjoyment” in his illness.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 7:42 with our exclusive interview with michael douglas , the oscar winning actor was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer back in august and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. we sat down with douglas on monday and began by asking a simple question, how he's feeling.

>> i feel good, relieved, the tumor is gone. but, you know, i have to check out on a monthly basis now to maintain. it's not a total euphoria, it probably takes a couple of months of being checked out. it's been a wild six-month ride.

>> let me ask a little bit more on the physical side here. lingering effects? i mean you went through a lot of chemotherapy, a lot of radiation, your voice sounds pretty strong.

>> uh-huh.

>> what are the other effects?

>> the salivary ducts have been closed down as a result of the radiation, probably for at least a year or two. so your mouth is very dry, particularly affects you at night for sleeping. there's still a fatigue factor which will progressively go away, but that's about it.

>> weight, do you have an appetite? can you eat?

>> i'm eating like a pig. i lost about 32 pounds and i put about 12 back. but i got another 20, 25 to go.

>> the day before that first radiation treatment or that first chemo therapy treatment, does the mind reel? do you sit and think of all the horror stories you have heard over the years.

>> yeah, you do and you don't quite know what to expect with radiation five days a week for seven weeks and you find out about 2/3 of the way in as the sores in your mouth really get large and you can't swallow.

>> how miserable was it?

>> it was lousy, i wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

>> i was struck by something you said, there was an interview you gave recently to the hollywood reporter , you said, quote, cancer has shown me what family is. it has shown me a love that i never really knew existed.

>> it's something that all cancer patients and survivors have gone through and i don't know if it's a combination of a physiological as well, but there's a new depth, you know, maybe it has to do with because it was life threatening. so all of a sudden, the affection from my family, from my friends and from my fans hit me at a much deeper level than i would have ever have imagined before.

>> you have got two young children with katherine, dylan and karen. dillon is 10 and karen is 7 or 8.

>> 8, yes.

>> when you broke the news, what do they know? what don't they mow?

>> i told them right at the beginning.

>> it's a very scary word for a child.

>> it's a very scary word. but i took them down to a couple of radiation treatments so they came into the room and they saw all the star wars going around and they saw them put the mask on your face, because they have to kind of bolt you down like hannibel lecteror something. so it made up for all those days when dad was lying on the couch and couldn't get up. we had a big celebration this last couple of days i found out the tumor's gone.

>> let me ask you about another side of this. you have made a long career out of appearing in the public eye. and up on the big screen . you know the leading man, the sex symbol . there were -- don't shake your head. modesty. misplaced modesty. you had photographers following you around during this ordeal, talk to me about that, because there were some pictures that were taken that someone who has known you looked bad.

>> people kept saying are you sure you're okay? and finally my father kirk , he came back to new york for ten days and came up to the apartment every day. to see me. because i think that some of these photographs and, you know, who knows if any of them are touched up to even add the macabre effect.

>> you were gone.

>> i was gone.

>> i think he was even concerned. and, yeah, it was not a lot of fun. it's still not. they're there every day.

>> this is not a social scandal, this is not a marital issue, this is life and death .

>> the amount of paparazzi they have and these video cameras, you just can't do anything. and i resent the amount of imposition on our children too because it used to be at least that we tried to keep them out of that and they don't at all. but there is -- they were having -- there was sort of a macabre enjoyment, out of sort of watching me go down, for a while, i felt, by the paparazzi.

>> life today, any restrictions placed on you right now? can you eat anything you want? can you work out? i heard a report that you were at the gym.

>> i'm working out, i can eat anything i want. i'm getting my fingers ready for liberace.

>> you allowed yourself to look that far down the road.

>> absolutely. i think the odds are the tumor's gone and what i know about this particular type of cancer, that i've got it beat.

>> it sounds cliche, but i don't know anybody who's been through cancer who hasn't said that it's changed them. so in what way has it changed you the most?

>> it's put a timeline on my life. you know, we say -- i'm 66 now. you know, i'm fortunate, i've got a mother who's 88. she'll kill me, she may be 87. my father's 94. so you got to feel good about those genes, but it's definitely a third act so you're a little more conscious of your time and how you choose to spend it.

>> and over the years, there's been a label attached to your name. you're most often introduced as oscar winner michael douglas and now there's a good chance there will be another label attached your name. you may be known as oscar winner and cancer survivor , michael douglas .

>> from your lips to god's ears.

>> and coming up we can perhaps wish him luck at the golden globes f globes.