“I have cancer.” This statement, dreaded by most, has become Dave Schwartz’s reality — for a third time.
A little over a month ago, Dave stepped in front of The Weather Channel cameras — not to deliver a typical forecast — but instead, a deeply personal message to his fans; he is battling stomach cancer.
Determined to expand his message of inspiration and hope, Dave sat down with me in a large, unassuming conference room at the network’s headquarters in Atlanta to further discuss his journey with cancer.
Ten years ago while applying his on-camera make-up, Dave noticed a yellow tint to his skin and the whites of his eyes that prompted him to make a doctor’s appointment. To his shock, the diagnosis was stage 2 pancreatic cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is 6%.
In attempt to remove the cancerous tumor, Dave underwent a procedure called the Whipple in a local hospital, but unfortunately, due to a complication, the surgery was unsuccessful. He was given just a year to live.
Instead of throwing in the towel, Dave persevered and sought treatment from the surgeon who wrote the book on the Whipple procedure — literally. This mission steered him to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where his doctor suggested chemotherapy and radiation to shrink and isolate the tumor, followed by surgery to remove what was left. “They told me they were the best, and that I was a good candidate then boom, done,” Dave said with a snap of his fingers. The treatment was a success.
The victory, however, was short lived. Less than a year later, during routine check-ups, spots on his lungs appeared — pancreatic cancer again.
Knowing that Dave is a descendant of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, his surgeon suggested he undergo genetic testing to check for a particular gene mutation that appears more frequently in that population. His bloodwork came back positive for the BRCA2 mutation — a good thing in this scenario. A combination of new and old generation drugs had recently been discovered as an effective treatment option for pancreatic cancer patients with that genetic mutation. Dave was no exception. He was cancer free again.
Fast forward to 2015
Dave began to notice discomfort when he swallowed. Many ideas ran through his mind, ranging from an item sticking out into the esophagus to popping a hernia. All except one. “I didn’t even think cancer,” Dave said. So when it was time for his annual check-up at MD Anderson, nothing prepared him or his wife for the results — stomach cancer.
When I asked what his reaction was, Dave let out a heavy sigh and solemnly replied, “it was very disappointing. I initially thought, ‘This is it. This is what I’m going to die from.’”
So now Dave continues the fight for his life, though you would never know. His smooth, friendly and carefree demeanor serve as a stark contrast to the battle he is fighting.
One of the greatest healing aspects of Dave’s journey to recovery is immersing himself in beautiful artwork. For Dave, a lifelong appreciator of the arts, exploring museums or a simple walk through a park are “great for me on a personal and spiritual level — another form of healing.” Dave and his wife find solace in slowing down and appreciating each other and the little things. .
Side effects of cancer are commonly known — fatigue, pain, discomfort, etc. — but when I asked what side effects he is experiencing, Dave’s answered amazed me. “In a sense, having cancer and the impact it has on my life has really enriched my life tremendously through strengthening my relationships with people.” Dave’s unbreakable and contagious positivity defies all odds. Here is a man who is battling cancer for a third time, and instead of dwelling on the obvious negatives, he focuses on the richness of life. A lesson we can all learn from.
Another philosophy he lives by is no “what ifs.” “It is what my wife and I decided early on — 10 years ago — when I was first diagnosed. Period. Let’s go with what we know, and that’s all there is. You can worry that 95% of people don’t live beyond a year with pancreatic cancer…what if…no…more like, what are we having for dinner?” It’s one step at a time and a “no kvetching” (yiddish for complaining) mentality in the Schwartz household.
These perspectives, coupled with his passion for weather, fuel his decision to maintain a normal work schedule at the network. “I enjoy sitting in front of a computer and digging up interesting things to pass on to viewers. I love creating stories. There are so many reasons why I enjoy coming to work. I’m going to come to work as long as I can come to work. The people are great. I love the weather. What could be bad?”
Whereas many people would probably take time off, Dave prefers working at his dream job. His rich history with The Weather Channel began in 1985 when he worked as a gofer in the newsroom. He landed the job after making a spectacle of himself by offering to clean the bathrooms for free! Dave wanted to learn from the best — no matter the cost. Lucky for him, it didn’t come to that. He worked at the network on Saturdays while working at the Fulton County Health Department Monday through Friday.
On his lone day off, Dave would come into the unoccupied studio and practice delivering forecasts in front of the camera. He eventually made it into the on-camera apprentice program, where he would be on-air from 2–3 a.m. once a week alongside an experienced on-camera meteorologist. When an on-camera position would open up, Dave would apply. After many failed attempts, in 1991 his persistence paid off — with the help of an application letter entitled, “10 reasons why Dave Schwartz should be the next on-camera meteorologist for The Weather Channel.”
“I have had so much opportunity here, such support over the years. I’m a member of the family.” So his choice to continue working isn’t that hard to wrap my head around. After all, immersing yourself in your passions can only strengthen you.
His outlook probably wouldn’t be as fiercely positive if it weren’t for the outpouring of love and support he has received from friends and family. Dave’s childhood was by no means idealistic. When he was younger he didn’t really see an exciting future for himself. However, “through connections with my friends, family and wife of 29 years, I never knew I could be as happy as I am now. It has been an unfolding dream for me.”
When offering his advice to people diagnosed with cancer, Dave says it’s crucial to, “gather a support group that will rally about you and don’t be afraid to tell everyone you know because everyone knows someone who has or had cancer. There is great information out there through people you know.”
I found myself truly moved after talking to Dave. His outlook on life inspiring. His positivity infectious. His strength admirable. His love for weather without parallel.
Most of the time we don’t have control over the negative things that impact our lives. However, we have complete control over how we react to those situations or hurdles. Dave said it best:
“None of us is guaranteed tomorrow — we all know that. As far as I’m concerned whether you have cancer or not we are all in the same boat. None of us really know that we have more time than what we have right now. So I’m no different than anyone else. I have my struggle. I have my cross to bear — other people have their crosses to bear, and let’s hope that we wake up alive tomorrow.”
by Bailey Rogers, a communications specialist at The Weather Channel