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Olympian speaks to cancer survivors at North Shore

Scott Hamilton won the gold medal in men’s figure skating at the 1984 Olympics, but he said the achievement was not the best thing to happen in his life.

Getting cancer was.

“It’s such an odd blessing because we find within us a champion that we never knew existed without it,” Hamilton told a crowd of cancer survivors Saturday at the Monter Cancer Center run by the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

“You find that you’re getting in tune with a part of your being that you never knew existed,” he said. “The best thing that ever happened to me in my life was cancer. I saw life in such a different way. I’m grateful that I experienced it.”

After his gold medal win at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, the Toledo, Ohio, native joined the Ice Capades for two years before starting his own production, Stars on Ice.

After visiting 50 cities on a 60-city tour for Stars on Ice in 1997, Hamilton said he decided to see his doctor because he had not been feeling well during most of that year.

A cancerous mass was then found in one of his testicles and Hamilton was diagnosed with Stage III testicular cancer.

“I can’t have cancer. I’m booked, I’m busy. I don’t have time for cancer,” Hamilton said he told his doctor.

Hamilton’s testicle was removed the same year he was diagnosed and he was cancer-free.

But in 2004, doctors discovered a benign pituitary brain tumor, although Hamilton survived that scare as well.

“Miracles can happen if you participate, but you have to stay vigilant,” Hamilton told the crowd, saying that early diagnosis is key to successfully battling cancer.

He said he just found out two weeks ago that the brain tumor has returned, but told the crowd not to cry for him after they expressed concern.

“It’s all how you look at this,” Hamilton said.

“Life is a collection of moments,” he said. “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

The crowd heard from other cancer survivors, including East Norwich, L.I., resident Ellen Nardone.

“Cancer is something that can sneak up on you at any time in your life,” she said.

In June 1992, Nardone discovered a lump in her right breast and had a biopsy taken.

“My nightmare became a reality,” she said. “It was official: I had breast cancer.”

Nardone became cancer-free in May 1993 and has followed up with yearly MRI screenings when one MRI in May 2008 detected another mass in her right breast.

She lost her hair following four cycles of chemotherapy and had a mastectomy.

By Thanksgiving 2008, she was done with the chemo and is cancer-free.

“I feel great and my hair is back to its curly, unmanageable self,” she said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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