By: Joe Strupp
When Philadelphia Inquirer Editor William Marimow returns to work Monday after more than three weeks’ leave to battle prostate cancer, he plans to become a serious advocate for regular medical checkups.
“A zealot,” is actually the way he put it during a recent interview with E&P. “This has been a learning experience. I have been proselytizing to everyone to have an annual physical. Anyone in their 50s who does not have an annual physical is courting disaster.”
Marimow, 59, says he learned first-hand that regular check-ups are a no-brainer when he underwent a routine examination that revealed prostate cancer in January. He said he was having a long-running bladder condition checked when the doctor detected “a worrisome sign.” A biopsy on his prostate revealed cancer.
Just days before having his prostate removed on March 20, Marimow told staffers at the Inquirer about it, but fully expected to return to work. “I didn’t want to alarm anyone, but I wanted to tell the truth,” Marimow said from his home in Washington, D.C. where he has been recovering. “The pathology reports have come out excellent.”
The cancer scare was the latest in a series of major events during the past year for Marimow.
A year ago, he was a top editor at National Public Radio, where he’d worked since leaving The Sun of Baltimore in 2004. When the Inquirer was sold by McClatchy to Philadelphia Media Holdings last year, new Publisher Brian Tierney hired Marimow, who took over in November. Since taking the job, Marimow has split time between his D.C. home, where his wife lives, and a Philadelphia area apartment.
Almost immediately upon taking the job, Marimow was thrust into a bitter labor battle with the Newspaper Guild, which almost resulted in a strike in December before a contract was signed. A tough layoff followed earlier this year that resulted in about 70 staffers departing. Then came the health problems.
“My first reaction was that dealing with adversity always makes you stronger,” Marimow recalled. “I would get the best surgeon I could find, handle it with candor, dignity and determination and follow the doctor’s orders.”
That doctor was Patrick C. Walsh, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, where Marimow’s surgery occurred. He said Walsh is the same doctor who removed Sen. John Kerry’s prostate and has become a leader in the treatment.
“I’m completely mobile, I’ve never been in pain and I felt I was very lucky,” he said. Asked if he ever thought about giving up his high-stress, demanding editor’s job, Marimow said quickly, “not for a second.”
“You don’t want a disease or a sickness to govern your life, you want to live the life you aspire to,” Marimow, the father of two grown children, added. “The professional life I aspire to is to make a contribution to excellent journalism.”
Marimow said he had discussed prostate cancer with several other survivors from the newspaper industry, including former Inquirer Managing Editor Gene Forman, who had the same procedure done by the same doctor 11 years ago. “Bill does his homework and he had done his homework on this,” Forman said. “He was absolutely sure what he wanted to do.”
Marimow also said a “well-known public figure in Philadelphia” contacted him for support, but he declined to name the person.
Still, he reiterated his plan to become a vocal force in favor of regular check-ups and cancer screenings upon his return to the newsroom. “I am going to be lobbying like hell on a one-to-one basis,” he said.