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Doug Robinson: Dick Nourse hopes to get life back on track

Published: Monday, March 11 2013 10:40 p.m. MDT

Debi and Dick Nourse

Nourse Family photo

Dick Nourse answers the door of his condo, and it's a blast from the past. Here is the man who delivered the news in Utah for 43 years, all of it on KSL-TV. Here is Utah's version of Walter Cronkite. Here is a face as familiar in our homes as the family dog and the smell of dinner.

But not quite. Something is different. The hair has gone snow white. The voice — THE Voice — rumbles and sputters. The face is thinner, the granite shoulders slumped. Oh, and there's a feeding tube snaked into his nose.

"Thanks for coming," he says, smiling warmly.

Dick Nourse is sick. If he were delivering the story on KSL tonight, he might do it this way: "Tonight's lead story: Dick Nourse, Utah's beloved anchorman whom some believe to be the longest-running local anchor ever, has been stricken with cancer for the third time, right on schedule. It was 16 years after the first cancer that the second cancer was discovered. And now the third cancer has showed up 16 years after that. Nourse says he is anxious to recover, but not so he can resume his golf game. Our Deanie Wimmer caught up with Nourse in his top-floor condo, where he is recovering from yet another cancer fight."

Sure, Nourse wants to travel and golf and enjoy his grandkids and do what other retirees do in their golden years. Didn't he earn it? He's 73. But there's another reason he wants to get better: Dayne

Dayne is the 16-year-old son of Dick and Debi Nourse, and their raison d'etre. He was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, which has confined him to a wheelchair for about eight years. He's broken almost every major bone in his body, many of them more than once. ("We've lost track of how many times he has broken a bone," says Nourse.) Years ago, steel rods were inserted in all of the long bones, but complications have arisen recently. His body is rejecting the rods, and his bones are not remodeling. Doctors are attempting to find a way to stop bone loss, rebuild bone and/or reinsert the rods, which is a painful option.

Dick and Debi have devoted their lives to helping their son. For Debi, who is 51, it was even a factor in her decision to earn a nursing degree a few years ago. She wanted to be able to talk expertly to the doctors who were treating Dayne, as well as help with medical expenses.

"I wanted to be smart enough to know our options and be an advocate for Dayne," she says.

When doctors in Salt Lake City said they could do no more for Dayne, the Nourses spent hours on the phone and Internet to find new doctors, solutions and developments. They had just made arrangements to meet with a specialist in Baltimore when the cancer turned up again and ended their plans.

Dick's first cancer — non-Hodgkins lymphoma — struck him in 1980. He was off the air for eight weeks while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Then he pulled on a wig and returned to the evening news. In 1996, doctors discovered cancer on his prostate. He underwent surgery.

Then a few months ago he developed a sore throat. It persisted for four months. He finally decided to get it checked out. In December, doctors discovered cancer on the back of his tongue. Throat cancer. This time it went after his moneymaker and calling card — his golden baritone.

"They told me when he was (under sedation)," says Debi. "I went numb and started bawling. They told me not to tell Dick, but he could tell just by looking at the anesthesiologist."

"I had some bad moments there," says Nourse. "But I've always been a firm believer in not blaming someone else. That's the way it is. Still, I didn't want to go there again. I still do have those private moments when I say, 'C'mon, why?' Then I stop."

So he began yet another regimen of cancer treatments — six weeks of radiation treatment, Monday through Friday, plus chemo treatments on Friday. The radiation was presented on the outside of his jaw, which ravaged his throat inside and out. His beard was destroyed. Skin hung from his jaw. He lost 40 pounds on a liquid diet. He still can't taste food. His throat is raw and burnt.

"Recovery is a long, slow process," he says. "One day I'm up and one day I'm down. But I'm coming around."

Debi and Dick are sitting on a couch in their family room, which has a large window that commands a vista of Salt Lake Valley. They are holding hands and sitting close to one another. Dayne, who is home-schooled for medical reasons, is in a back room playing video games with friends he has made via the Internet.

This is where they recover and plot their next medical move because the medical community tends to leave patients to search for their own answers when certain options turn into dead ends. They had hoped to travel in a motorhome with Dayne to show him the country. They had hoped to live in St. George, but moved here to be closer to Dayne's doctors.

"We had a lot of plans for retirement," Debi says, "but we haven't done any of them yet. All we've done is meet all the medical needs. I feel bad 'cause Dick worked really hard and did well and provided for his family."

Nourse thinks about this a moment and then offers this: "I want to get my strength back," he says in his raspy voice. "I want to get back to helping Dayne. That's where I left off. That's the frustrating part — not being to help him. Dayne is a beautiful-spirited young man, and I love him."

Email: drob@desnews.com

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