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May 6 proved to be “a very special day” for legendary TV producer Steven Bochco, 72, and one that delivered a very funny confession: “There is a reason now why I go to strip clubs every night, because I have this 25-year-old man’s DNA,” he revealed.
Ten-time Emmy winner Bochco — best known for his huge hits like L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues and the current Murder in the First — got laughs for that one-liner while standing at the podium during City of Hope’s 40th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion in Duarte, Calif., where he was introduced for the first time to a man that not only changed his nightlife habits but also his life: Jon Kayne. Bochco received a stem cell transplant from donor Kayne, then 23, in October 2014, which helped him beat a rare form of leukemia called blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm.
Bochco, who had already undergone three rounds of chemotherapy to rid his body of cancer cells and prepare for the transplant, spent a total of 70 days at City of Hope while receiving treatment. He credits Kayne, City of Hope, Dr. Stephen Forman, his nurse Jessica and his wife, Dayna, for helping him through those difficult days (he lost 40 lbs., his hair and could barely make it up a flight of stairs) and getting him back to good health.
“It’s not called City of Despair; this is a remarkable institution. People come here with potentially fatal diseases,” Bochco said during his remarks. “Nobody condescends to you or treats you other than a patient who they are here to help. I know I could not have come through this adventure without this organization. My gratitude to all of you who came to share this moment is enormous.”
As for Kayne, he signed up as a donor after losing his grandfather, Eddie, to cancer, when the former was just a teenager. His grandmother then faced another round of chemotherapy for lymphoblastic leukemia at the same time he got a call that he was needed as a donor.
Shortly after Bochco stepped offstage, he got on the phone with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss the important day, his nearly fatal disease and what the experience has done to his outlook on life.
What has today meant to you?
It’s an amazing day. I’ve spent a year and a half wondering who this young man is who gave me the gift of life. It was wonderful to meet him and his family. He lives in San Francisco so we are semi-neighbors. My wife and I have a home in Napa. You know, I’m carrying his DNA. We are related.
Privately, what are your conversations like with Jon and will you spend any time with him?
We’re going out for dinner tomorrow night where we can be in a quiet environment and get to know each other. I fully intend to grill him on every inch of his life.
What is most pressing thing you want to know?
He gave it to us when he got up to speak today, that he lost a grandfather he was close to [because of] cancer and he’s got another close relative who is fighting cancer. He’s a very conscious young guy. As I’ve said, when I was his age, I had my head up my ass. I never thought of doing something as selfless or as generous as he has done. I am eternally grateful.
You mentioned that gratitude onstage as well. Can you say anything else about your time at City of Hope?
City of Hope is an extraordinary institution and philosophically, it is completely patient-oriented. You walk in the door and feel like you are cocooned by people who are here to serve. That goes all the way up the chain from the people who mop the floor to nurses to administrative personnel to team of doctors. My first day at City of Hope when I was being admitted, the first thing that I had done was a blood draw. The woman drawing my blood asked me why I was here and I told her about my leukemia diagnosis and that I was about to have a bone marrow transplant. She told me that she had one 13 years ago and [my doctor] Dr. Forman was her doctor too. She said that if she could afford it, she would work there for nothing because Dr. Forman walks on water. Two years later, I have no reason to feel any differently.
You haven’t talked much about your disease. Can you describe what that year was like for you and how close were you to death?
It was probably pretty much a coin flip, 50-50. That sounds fine when you’re making a bet with a friend, but when you’re flipping the coin whether you are going to live or die, it has more importance. I wasn’t terrified. I was terrified the first few days after I was diagnosed, but you can’t function being terrified. There is so much homework to do to find doctors and determine treatment. I spent 70 days here, spread out over three to four months and you have a lot of time to think about your life past and your life future and what it means to go through something like this. One of the amazing things is that I lost my fear of dying. I never kept it a secret that I had this illness, but it never got out there past my close friends and family. I’m proud to be able to talk to you and tell you what an amazing experience I had and what an extraordinary place this is.
How has it affected your perspective on life and your career?
It didn’t really change my perspective about my career, other than the fact that cancer is an equal-opportunity offender. If it’s going to get you, it’s going to get you. The difference with me is that I was able to access this extraordinary place. I’ve been back at work now for a little over a year. I really don’t think about it very much. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I don’t worry about things the way I might have in the past. I feel very fortunate to be alive and it feels like bonus time.
I must ask, what shows did you watch while you were in the hospital? Did you binge-watch anything?
You know, I didn’t. I lost 40 lbs. and every hair on my body. I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs I was so exhausted. I never watched a moment of TV while I was in the hospital, and when I got home spent months recovering. I slept and I couldn’t eat much — I had no appetite. I just read and tried to keep up with work as much as I could and that was about it. Now, it’s like being married and getting divorced. Your life moves on and you look back and know that you were married — it’s a fact of your history — but you don’t live in that time anymore. It’s not relevant to your present day life. That’s how I feel about my disease. I had it. I went through it. I’m past it. I come to City of Hope every eight weeks or so to get blood drawn and I go back to work.
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