Olympian Scott Hamilton Fights Recurring Pituitary Tumor with Diet and Exercise
By Suzanne Potter, PNA
Olympic gold medal figure skater Scott Hamilton has always been a fighter. Over the past 21 years he’s fought testicular cancer and three pituitary tumors. In fact he’s living with a recurrent craniopharyngioma right now – but has decided to put off surgery and pursue a different path: healthy living. And it appears to be working.
Hamilton’s two most recent brain scans, in February and then December 2017, actually show that the tumor is shrinking. Hamilton, a devout Christian, calls it a divine miracle. “This doesn’t really happen,” he says, “I give all glory to God on this one. There are many talented people in the medical community but this is one they are having a hard time explaining.”
Almost 40 years ago he lost his mother to cancer and has faced a string of life-threatening illnesses himself. In 1997 he beat testicular cancer. In 2004 Hamilton underwent radiation to battle the first appearance of his craniopharyngioma. It recurred six years later and he had gamma knife surgery in 2010. Then after another six years, it recurred again, in 2016.
When the tumor made its third appearance, he says he made a pact of sorts with God: he would do everything in his power to eat right and exercise, and leave the rest to divine providence. Now, no one becomes a world-class athlete without enormous self-discipline and a fiercely competitive nature. So Hamilton says he deployed that legendary determination to stick with a regimen that many a dieter has tried and failed: he cut out all sugar and all processed foods. Hamilton says, “I meant to try to figure out what I’ve done differently we go back to this: the definition of insanity is to do everything we always do and expect a different result. In my understanding of these cells, they love an acidic environment and they love sugar. So I’m denying them both.” Hamilton aims to starve the tumor by denying it sugar. And he drinks a lot of high-ph alkaline water, “to try to change the atmosphere surrounding the cells so anything bad doesn’t really thrive.” He also exercises regularly, to keep his body strong.
When asked if it was hard to eliminate sugar and processed foods, Hamilton replied, “It’s hard but that’s where faith comes in. If I make a pact to say I’m going to do this and be obedient I feel like I’m doing the best that I can. If am able to avoid surgery for as long as possible that is the goal.”
Hamilton has a lot to live for: his wife Tracie and four kids, ages 10 to 16. Not to mention a long career in sports broadcasting (he just got back from a month in Seoul as part of the NBC Sports team covering the Olympics). His Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation raises money for cancer research and has funded a chair at Vanderbilt University, funding scientists who study the effects of chemotherapy on children. Hamilton says chemo and radiation have too many long-term side effects: “There are ways to endure it but why make the whole body suffer when we are just trying to evict the cancer.”
He also supports research into targeted immunotherapy and aims for a better understanding of the potential of proton therapy, something noted pituitary neurosurgeon Dr. Ed Laws at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston calls an “elegant solution” for many tumors. The CARES Foundation SK8 to ELIMIN8 campaign does peer-to-peer fundraising with skaters and their families reaching out to their friends and loved ones to raise money for more research. He has been involved with the Special Olympics for many years and has been a longtime supporter of the Pituitary Network Association, raising awareness of pituitary disorders.
Hamilton’s doctors have advised him that he is not a good candidate for proton therapy because he had gamma knife in the past. His only choice later on may be to have surgery again, but he says he’s opting to change his diet and see where that takes him.
Hamilton is also a motivational speaker and has recently published his third book, called Finish First: Winning Changes Everything. In the book, he shows people how to harness the competitive spirit to accomplish their goals, be they in business, academics, or elsewhere. He adds, “The main thing is to look at who we are as people, what we want to accomplish. Figure out the reasons why we want to do that and know that there is a path forward.”
He also advises people to reframe any setbacks as information that helps us get where we need to be heading. He says he fell thousands of times as a skater, and got back up every single time. “People are afraid of failure,” he says, “This pursuit of perfection, where you’d rather not fail. I try to reidentify failure as an incredible opportunity to grow.”
In 1984 that attitude led him to a gold medal. Now he’s facing his latest life challenge with extreme action on a personal level with diet and exercise, and by funding research that may help him and millions of others down the line. “As long as I’m participating in research, tumors like mine may develop new treatments either by design or by accident.”
He realizes that his approach to fighting the pituitary tumor with diet and exercise is a gamble. “It’s either really smart on my behalf, or really stupid the jury is out.” Hamilton says he’s focused on his family and his life purpose: to inspire others to be their best selves, and push for new treatments in the battle against cancer.