He had been fighting cancer privately for 19 months. He died just five days after making the announcement.
Local 4′s Devin Scillian sat down with Samuelsen’s wife, Christy McDonald. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and she’s taking up the cause to honor her husband.
“People say, ‘You’re so strong.’ And I say, ‘I am. I am really not.’ And to be able to admit that is OK too. That I’m not OK all the time,”
McDonald is a journalist and anchor at Detroit Public Television. Her job is information. She now has way too much of it when it comes to colon cancer.
“I Monday morning quarterback everything,” she said. “I think that’s what’s so tough. You say, ‘Woulda, coulda, shoulda.’ Could we have done this better? Did I do enough? Did we make the right decisions here and there? We did. Because we did the best that we could.”
Sports talk can devolve into rapid-fire hot-take radio, the more outrageous the better. Which made Samuelsen the un-sports-talkiest radio host around. Smart, witty, measured, but above all thoughtful and deeply kind. And if that was him on air, he was even more so off it.
His former partner at The Ticket, Mike Stone, couldn’t believe Samuelsen just kept coming to work. He just kept being a husband and a father. Even with treatments and clinical trials he seemed the picture of health.
“I call him Superman in a lot of ways because I think he just said, ‘Well. I’m here today. Christy’s going to take care of the research and figuring out what I have to do next and all I have to do is live and take advantage of every day that I have.’ And he really did,” McDonald said.
Samuelsen was 47 years old when he was diagnosed. Three years ago, doctors changed the guidance on colonoscopies. Moving the starting point from 50 years of age down to 45.
“We’re seeing the incidence of early-onset colon cancer happening to people in their 20s, in their 30s, so if you’re around 40 start to have the conversation with your doctor about making a plan,” McDonald said.
Even with Colon Cancer Awareness at what must be an all-time high. This particular cancer gets its power in part from our discomfort with talking about it. McDonald wants people to get over the discomfort.
“We’re talking about bodily functions, right? So if we’re having loose bowel movements. If there’s blood in our stool. If we’re having gastric-upset. Or we’re constipated, those are things that no one wants to talk about,” she said. “If they can just start talking about it. Don’t be embarrassed. That would be the message.”
Samuelsen, on his last day on the air, told people to make an appointment for a colonoscopy. McDonald and Mike Stone hear from people every day.
“There have been quite a few of them who found out they did have polyps and who knows what would’ve happened if they didn’t get it checked out,” Stone said.
“I’m getting handwritten letters from people saying, ‘I think you saved my husband’s life because he had polyps removed and he wouldn’t have gone in if Jamie hadn’t gone on the radio.’ Those things are beautiful and they’re wonderful. I still wish I had Jamie back,” McDonald said.
McDonald said one of the things Samuelsen talked about was that if he got into remission, it would give him the chance to become a voice and advocate for colorectal cancer awareness. But that job is left to McDonald now because Samuelsen never got the chance.