For several minutes, Brian Custer sat in the Manhattan office of Dr. David Kaufman and simply stared out of the window.
There was a bird perched on the limb of a tree outside and while Custer’s eyes remained locked on the bird, his mind was someplace far away. The popular television personality on SportsNet New York had just received a diagnosis of prostate cancer. As he stared outside, he began to cry.
It was in June that the 42-year-old Custer had undergone a routine physical, which led to the diagnosis three weeks later. He eats well, trains in martial arts five times a week and is the model of healthy choices. But a standard prostate exam — he had skipped the exam the year before — led his doctor to see some irregularities.
A couple weeks later, a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) confirmed that Custer had a “very, very aggressive cancer of the prostate.”
“He told me, ‘We need to do something now.’ You don’t have time for that vacation to the Bahamas to visit with your favorite nephew. You need to get this done now,” Custer told Metro New York. “I about fell off my chair. It is so hard to describe — it still is. I must have been crying for some time because I remember snapping out of it when I felt his hand.
“He was handing me tissues. I just wanted to crawl up. Just wanted to crawl up.”
A bone scan later revealed the cancer hadn’t spread elsewhere.
Originally, he didn’t want to have surgery and asked about other options. The answer was, “OK, then you will die.” Three weeks later, on Aug. 15, Custer was in surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in a robotic operation by Dr. David Samadi, who developed the technique.
At 11:12 a.m. the next day, he walked out of the hospital under his own power.
Among those who reached out to him was St. John's head basketball coach Steve Lavin, who is also a survivor of prostate cancer after being diagnosed two years ago.
Custer has a new appreciation for life, realizing that without an annual physical and prostate check he would be looking at a much different life expectancy. Several weeks following the surgery, he was cleared to walk up and down his street outside his home in north Jersey. It was a little bit of exercise, something he has done hundreds of times before and had taken for granted.
“[I] really felt the sun for the first time in my life on my face,” Custer said. “I really felt it.”
That appreciation has led him to enjoy simple moments with his sons, ages 10, 9 and 3.
“When I tuck them in at night, sometimes I just stand there and watch them in bed for a minute,” Custer said. “They're like, 'Dad, what's up? Why are you staring?' I just watch them sleep. I'd never do that. There was a time a few months ago when I didn't know if I'd live to see them married. Would I live to see them graduate? Even be teenagers? I just didn't know.”
One month later, he met with Samadi again for another PSA and got a call a few days later: He was completely clear of cancer.
“I just said, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ I was relieved,” Custer said. “I probably cried again.”
He returned to work on “Geico SportsNite” and “Jets Nation” and he’s back to working out again — “Thank God,” he says — but there are changes. He can only eat red meat every few months and his dairy intake has been significantly cut back.
He will need to take a PSA once every three months over the course of the next year just to make sure he’s beaten cancer. Deep down, he says this is a “mental disease” as well as a physical one.
“I don’t care if you’re white, black or Latin. As a man, you need to do this,” Custer said. “Get checked. I know, I get it. I know, a lot of guys don’t want that. I didn’t want some doctor poking me back there. Get over that, man. I did. It saved my life.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.