Cancer: The Walking Contradiction

A lot of people have been asking me how I’m feeling lately after my diagnosis of bladder cancer. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the calls, the texts, the messages.

Truth is— I feel a little bit like I’m on an island.. it’s a cancer few people know about, one that few people my age ever deal with, one that I don’t meet most of the risk factors for. It still seems like I’m talking about someone else.

The doctor told me, 

sometimes it’s just “bad luck”

I feel good after my first procedure to remove the tumor and now comes lengthy treatment to keep it from returning. 

On any given day, 

I feel like reading all I can about this illness and then reading none of it at the same time.

I feel like I’m totally going to beat this thing, and then like I’m doomed just minutes later.

I feel like bad luck got me here and now it’s only good luck that will get me out.

I feel like a slob because I haven’t been wearing belts to work because the cancer and treatments are right at my belt line.. and I’m paranoid that wearing belts during the long drive or sitting at work could make it worse.

I feel like 2020 is the worst year ever and then like it probably could be even worse so I just need to shut up about it.

I feel like I can’t wait to get the next treatment done and then into my immunotherapy. 

I feel like I didn’t even get a cancer that people know about or talk about… and at the same time I know it’s so petty and ridiculous to even think that. 

That’s how I feel today.

I’m bound to feel different tomorrow. 

It’s my story. An unexpected chapter.

I need to own it. 

Early detection even in the time of Covid is key. Read my first post about the two drops of blood that started it all, here:

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Two Drops of Blood: My Most Important Blog Post

It’s been nearly ten years since I started dadmissions— documenting all the ups and downs of parenthood and this might be my most important post: and I’m gonna get uncomfortable with you for a second. If you ever see blood when you pee.. even a drop.. get to a doctor. That’s what happened to me three months ago at the beginning of this endless summer. Just two bright drops. It led me to urgent care for antibiotics and eventually to multiple appointments at a urologist. Tests. More tests. The doctor was still bothered by those two drops of blood. Just a month ago, she did one more test and scanned me with a camera live on the inside of my body and pointed to a jellyfish looking thing and said, “See that? I believe that’s bladder cancer.. and that’s what caused the bleeding.” That led to what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for the surgery I had this week to remove the tumor and apply chemotherapy to the area. Now they’ll fully diagnose things. Bladder cancer is insidious and loves to come back but because of those two drops of blood it was likely caught early. In the time of covid, cancer scans are way down, and I can’t stress enough HOW important those doctors appointments are. I felt safe the entire way. The hospitals are sterile. The teams are safe. So get that checkup! I’m thankful for my family and wife who is juggling more 2020 curveballs than we ever imagined. I’m home recuperating for a couple of days and then back at it. I know I’m walking a road that so many people have walked before and are walking right now.

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Searching For Clarence (Part 5): A Mystery Laid To Rest

I spent the greater part of a year looking for Clarence Alan Burleigh. The Air Force veteran had a decorated career in the military receiving commendations for his work in the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing. There was a letter from President Kennedy after the Cuban Missile Crisis and a note of his honorable discharge. The mementos tucked away in a scrapbook made up of his entire life.

I first came to know Clarence on the dusty old pages of that scrapbook. It had nagged at me since I saw it sitting on the floor of a second hand store. HOW is it that the life of a military veteran ends up for sale to be pieced out and cut apart for some trendy art project. So I bought it myself and my search for Clarence began.

Traditional search methods came up blank. Clarence had ties to Arizona, Pennsylvania, and California. I KNEW he spent much of his life here after seeing school pictures from Lincoln Grammar School and even his school ID from Santa Monica city College.

Yes after a military career during the time of Vietnam, and after time at Air Force bases across the country, after a career in aerodynamics documented in his news clippings, it appeared Clarence came home to California.

I found his addresses online. I drove many of them myself. Some old addresses were tear downs, replaced with ultra modern homes. No sign of Clarence. Another wrong turn. Search directories used in the news business came up empty. His entries would just stop. No links to family. No death records either. Nothing. It was like he simply vanished. I went to the US Air Force. Surely THEY must keep records on their veterans. They told me they don’t keep records back that far and suggested I go to the Veterans Administration. I went around and around with the VA only for them to cite patient privacy laws and say they couldn’t be a help.

Trust me, they weren’t.

There were a couple of close calls along the way. My conversation with a Clarence “Ted” Burleigh in LA, only it was Louisiana not Los Angeles. There had been mentions of Ted in the scrapbook. We spoke for a while but he wasn’t my Clarence. And there was the photo match I made online. A picture of a mausoleum in Clarence’s scrapbook was clearly an exact match to a cemetery in Pennsylvania. This was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at Homewood Cemetery where Clarence Burleigh the third was laid to rest. My Clarence HAD to be his son or grandson with family in Pennsylvania.

The months wore on and the scrapbook of Clarence’s life sat in my office at work. It was gathering dust and just sitting there. On this Memorial Day weekend I posted my series one more time. Searching For Clarence. It only takes that ONE person with the information. Maybe this would be the weekend. Within minutes my friend and former colleague Jeff pinged in.

He died in 2015.”

Buried at Riverside National Cemetery”.

“If it’s the right guy.”

Jeff did something in minutes I hadn’t been able to do in an entire year. And he did it using an ancestry site. He got me the grave site records.

Clarence Alan Burleigh:

born 18 November 1936.

No question. It was the right guy. You can’t stare at a scrapbook for weeks and weeks, looking at the details of every picture and entry, obsessed with finding the clue to crack the mystery open, without seeing the very first clue: his baby birth announcement welcoming Clarence Alan Burleigh into the world: 1:20AM on November 18, 1936.

A mystery laid to rest.

My search for Clarence had taken me across the country and ended at a national cemetery on this Memorial Day weekend. With the keys of a computer, Jeff solved the mystery that had been nagging at me. And he did what the United States Air Force and Veterans Administration were unable or unwilling to do.

I continue to wonder how life treated Clarence. Did we give proper thanks to one of our military veterans before he ended up in section 61a, plot 2644 of the Riverside National Cemetery.

Was it a life well lived.

So this is the last chapter of my Search for Clarence. Or IS it. If the family of Clarence Alan Burleigh is still out there, and I know they are, I would like to reunite you with the scrapbook of your family’s history and introduce you to Clarence.

email me:

Read other parts in my series:

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Life Interrupted

We’ve been discussing it for years. The combined bat mitzvah quinceanera— perhaps the world’s first bat mitzvanera. I think everyone thought it was cute in the beginning, a funny idea from dad to blend both traditions. I first wrote about it a decade ago, maybe earlier. Slowly it gained acceptance, and momentum, and over the years it took root in our family as a legit thing. It seemed like our own version of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

More than a year ago we began planning the real thing, looking at function rooms, picking a date. Her birthday weekend: THAT would be perfect. March 14th. The date was set. The following months went quickly, looking at quinceanera dresses in store after store, picking a court of her friends, finding a florist and picking flowers, looking at cakes and doing cake tastings, deciding on a reception, deciding on a theme, taking secret dance lessons. Yes secret dance lessons— with practice and even MORE practice. 

In the past few months we found the Rabbi for our bat mitzvanera event and Alicia began intensive weekly tutoring to learn her prayers, the week’s Torah portion, to learn and discuss her connection to Judaism that she had never explored before. It’s been amazing to see.

Just after new year, invitations went out across the country to our families, friends, coworkers, Alicia’s classmates. You never realize what goes into a party this big. 

The planning. 

The preparations. 

More planning. 

More preparations.

Then the word Coronavirus entered the nation’s vocabulary. And social distancing. And pandemic. 

The news cycle started to heat up just a couple of weeks ago, and still we were hopeful this party would make it just in the knick of time, ahead of the bigger problems. I crossed my fingers. Even this past weekend, it seemed we’d still be OK ahead of what was coming.

We had one friend of Alicia’s cancel early on. Her parents were concerned about their child being in a big gathering. That was more than a week ago. It was a sign of what was to come.

Then the NBA cancelled all games.

Then Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson got sick.

Then schools started to close.

Then the Governor started to limit crowds.

Then even Disneyland closed.

This has been such a whirlwind week. Friends who had RSVP’d ‘yes’ started to pull out. Parents had concerns over their kids. Family was afraid to travel. People had questions we couldn’t answer. One asked us what the hotel could do to guarantee everyone’s safety.

And midweek on what has been an exhausting and earth shattering week as to how we live our life, we started discussing with the hotel about officially POSTPONING the same party we had been talking about for ten years, the same party we had been planning for more than a year, the same bat mitzvanera we always talked about. 

People’s SAFETY is too important.

Our kids are too important.

And yet still, there is a huge emotional impact for our daughter and our family as well. This weekend we’ll gather with just a small group to celebrate her 15th birthday. No grand dress. No mystery dance. No bat mitzvanera.  

Not yet anyway. 

Life interrupted. It’s what many of us are experiencing right now.

Yet, we have our health right now and that’s what seems most important. 

On this journey into adulthood, our daughter may have inadvertently learned the most important lesson for all.  

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Morgan Freeman Narrates: Dear Kobe

It has been an emotional month for Los Angeles — a time of grief that won’t soon be forgotten for the families of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and all involved in that tragic helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. It has also been a time of deep reflection and coming together for the city of Los Angeles, and for the fans young and old who will never forget Lakers great Kobe Bryant.

For such an occasion, an event of this magnitude that will never be forgotten by the city, there was only one voice we wanted to deliver a message about Kobe’s legacy. So FOX 11  reached out to the legendary Morgan Freeman and asked if he would be the voice for a special tribute to Kobe during our coverage of the memorial on Monday 2/24/20. 

Using Kobe Bryant’s own words from Dear Basketball as an inspiration, we wrote a new version titled “Dear Kobe” reflecting on what Los Angeles itself has been feeling regarding the loss of Bryant and what we as a city would want to tell him.

We presented “Dear Kobe” to Morgan Freeman. He graciously agreed to track our tribute and on a beautiful and sunny Sunday morning, a far cry from the dark tragedy of four Sundays prior, we made a small recording studio at the end of a dining room table in a private home.

FOX 11’s team arrived with printed scripts and a microphone and a teleprompter to read from.  Morgan, in Los Angeles for just the weekend, arrived minutes later and did the recording in less than fifteen minutes. 

We humbly present Dear Kobe as a tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy, as we pass on our deepest condolences to the Bryant family and Laker Nation, and our deepest gratitude to Morgan Freeman for lending his voice to this project.  Please keep all the families in your thoughts and consider donating to the Mamba On Three fund.

Dear Kobe,

From the moment
We first saw you on the court
Tongue out
That swagger
In the Great Western Forum
We knew one thing was real:

We fell in love with you

A Los Angeles fandom so deep-
Our hearts– our hands–
Laker Nation’s spirit & soul.

We grew up with you
Young kids on the playground
“I’ll be Kobe– you be Shaq”
We never saw the end of the tunnel
We only saw YOU
Growing, leading, becoming a champ

And so we cheered.
Watching you run up and down the court
After every loose ball.
We saw your hustle
We saw your heart
Because it came with so much more

We saw you play through the sweat and hurt
Torn Achilles – and STILL sinking free throws
We KNEW why you did it.
Because that’s what you do
When you do what you love.
You leave it all on the court.
And so you did.

You gave Lakers fans their biggest dreams
And we’ll always love you for it.
Twenty years dedicated to this city- this team
And when that fateful Sunday came
Tragedy for so many families involved
We weren’t ready. we still aren’t.
And yet we know it’s time to say goodbye

And no — it’s NOT OK.
We’re not ready to let you go.
We want to let you know.
Yet we’ll always savor the moments we had together.
The good and the bad.
You’ve given this city, this team, your family.
All that you have.

And we all know, no matter what comes next
You’ll always be that guy
Tongue out
That swagger
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in your hands.

Love you always,
Los Angeles

note from Pete Wilgoren: I wrote “Dear Kobe” the morning after visiting the awe-inspiring memorial outside Staples Center after seeing such an outpouring of grief and love. Many of the photos in the final edit are ones that I took, including the boys with the quote “I’ll be Kobe, you be Shaq”. It was such a beautiful and heart-wrenching reminder of childhood, and pickup basketball, and endless summers, and the idea that this city has grown up with Kobe. I hope you’ll click the FoxLA link below to see pictures from our time with the legendary Morgan Freeman and a link to entire FoxLA video accompanying “Dear Kobe”:

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A City Mourns In Purple and Gold

It always seems to hit me during the commute. The long ride to work and nothing but my thoughts to occupy my time. And so it was today, four days since the chopper crash in Calabasas, and I’m sitting here tearing up in the car driving through downtown Los Angeles. I’m crying over people I’ve never even met. A Boston guy, who grew up with a poster of Larry Bird on my wall, crying over the death of one of the greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all time.

And at some point I realized, the tears are for far more than just that. They are for Kobe‘s daughter, and the other families on board, and even the pilot of the chopper. I’ve been in Los Angeles 16 years. I’ve been here for most of Kobe‘s legendary time with the Lakers. I’ve covered the championship parades down Figueroa Street. I’ve watched the Lakers spank my Celtics in an NBA finals game at Staples Center. I’ve seen my California girls grow up with their Kobe shirts. I’ve seen the impact he’s had on this city. 16 years. A Boston guy in Los Angeles. And this week, such stunning news. And I have watched the city in mourning. To see the memorials everywhere, to see the buildings all lit up in purple and gold, to see the murals popping up overnight all over Los Angeles. The amazing murals.

It has been heartbreaking.
It has been shattering.
It has also been awe-inspiring…

to see the community rally together. And I sat here, driving by Staples Center, the house they say Kobe built, just in its infancy when I arrived in LA, the Boston guy so far from home. I mourn for the families, I mourn for Kobe and his daughter, I mourn for the city of Los Angeles.

And I realize, maybe, just maybe,
LA really has become my second home.



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The $150 Heart Scan Which Could Save Your Life (and gave ME my peace of mind)

When your father dies at 48 and your mother dies at 59, you can spend much of your time feeling like you are running OUT of it. He died in my freshman year of high school in a car accident but there’s always been talk he had some sort of heart attack prior— so my HEART has always been front and center. I’m in my 40’s now and my older daughter just started her freshman year in high school.

Needless to say, my heart has been beating steadily on my mind.

So my research started with an autopsy report from the city of Boston- dad’s autopsy. All these years later. They mailed it out to me over the summer. It confirmed signs of significantly clogged arteries at the time of his car accident. I set up an appointment with a heart specialist. She looked at the autopsy report. Over the next few weeks I’d get a battery of tests. Blood pressure great. EKG great. Stethoscope listen great. Stress test great. ((Despite me needing far more treadmill time in general)).

And then the new secret weapon by heart doctors— the $150 calcium scan— a new specialized scan of your heart and arteries which can tell doctors if you have any plaque buildup in your arteries and how much. Believe it or not— its NOT an essential procedure so it’s NOT covered by insurance. But peace of mind is soooo worth $150 bucks. So I did the calcium scan last weekend. Fearing the worst. Dad died at 48. I’m 44. Racing against family history all these years. His autopsy showed significant blockages in his arteries. What would my tests show. And today the doctor left a message for me. The calcium score was in. It was ZERO. Zero. The best and lowest score you can get- no sign of anything in my arteries. I’ll get the full lowdown in an upcoming appointment.

Never been more happy to be a zero in my entire life.

And for a brief moment I’ll allow myself to feel for the first time in a very long time that I’m not racing the clock and doomed to the same fate he had.


I am writing this blog because of the amazing outpouring I got online from ALL over. Aside from people very happy that I’m being proactive on my health, the other most frequent common was people wanting more info on the heart calcium screening.  There is a lot of information online explaining the scan, the scoring, and what it all means. A good write up is below: I did not go to the Mayo Clinic but my experience and scoring were the same.

pete bday

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A Beautiful Day

It was the summer we got married and U2’s song Beautiful Day had just been released: 

The heart is a bloom

Shoots up through the stony ground

There’s no room

No space to rent in this town

But ever so unbelievable, you had the space for me. A budding romance between unlikely lovers from two very different walks of life

You thought you’d found a friend

To take you out of this place

Someone you could lend a hand

In return for grace

And you did. A friend found. We’ve rescued each other over these nineteen years navigating through the ups and downs of life.

You’re on the road

But you’ve got no destination

You’re in the mud

In the maze of her imagination

I wonder what you think. Can’t figure out WHY you’d want to spend your life with me. No question, I got the better of the deal

Touch me

Take me to that other place

Teach me

I know I’m not a hopeless case

That other place in our story still being written. Boston to LA and beyond. A couple grows into a family, my heart is a bloom

It’s a beautiful day

Don’t let it get away

It’s a beautiful day

To my wife on our 19th wedding anniversary, August 19th, 2019… wishing you a beautiful day, and many many more 


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Searching For Clarence (part 4) : JFK’s letter, The Air Force, and a Proud Military Service

By now you might have seen my essays.

It’s been a nationwide search to reunite an Air Force veteran with a scrapbook of his life- priceless mementos relegated to the dusty floor of a second hand store.

WHERE is Clarence Alan Burleigh.

Each time I look through the scrapbook of memories from the early days of his life through 1982 when the book suddenly stops, I see something new.

Today, it was the letter of appreciation that his team got for their work in the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing that got my attention.  

December 1962: 

It would be an inspiration to every citizen to see the high state of readiness of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines….a sincere well done to all ranks”

Signed by: President John F Kennedy.

It was a message sent to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and shared with members of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing including a young Clarence Burleigh.

It was a message sent after the Cuban Missile Crisis. 


I also have the letter awarding Clarence Burleigh the good conduct medal as part of his work with the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing for “exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity”.

And then there is the menu from that Thanksgiving Dinner served at Homestead Air Force Base in 1962 with a message from the Commander thanking the airmen for their service and defense of the nation while being away from their families over the holidays.

Clarence would receive an honorable discharge from the Air Force after several years of service and go on to a successful life here in California. His military service always on proud display.


The items carefully put away for posterity in a scrapbook now weathered which somehow ended up in an old album section of an antique store up for sale to whoever wants it. They didn’t remember where it had come from. It was just business. But not for me. I plunked down the money. My search began.

Here’s what I know about Clarence.

It looks like he’s still alive and has his most recent addresses in Santa Monica CA. Any telephone number I’ve found doesn’t work. He has ties to Pittsburgh PA, Phoenix AZ and Madera CA and elsewhere.

But here’s something else I know about Clarence: he deserves more than to have a lifetime of memories left abandoned. 

The US Air Force says it doesn’t keep records on veterans going back that far and it referred me to the Veterans Administration which says it can’t help citing privacy HIPAA laws.

Do you know Clarence Alan Burleigh? 

Email me:

read the other parts in this series:

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Searching For Clarence (part 3) a moon shot to reunite an Air Force veteran with priceless mementos

I’ve been looking through this photo album for weeks. I’ve called phone numbers. I’ve researched online. Nothing. NOTHING. It’s been weeks of me trying to find Air Force veteran Clarence Burleigh. His prized possessions ending up in a dusty scrapbook abandoned in a second hand store. How did they get there. WHY. It’s the history of an entire family. Clarence, his brother Ted, Clarence’s time in the Air Force, his work with machines, his fascination with the Apollo missions and newspaper clippings of Apollo 11. Every person has a story and this scrapbook belongs to Clarence. I bought the scrapbook to try and reunite it with Clarence and family.

Clarence would be in his 80’s and even though I can’t find him, we think he’s still alive. He’s an Air Force veteran and deserves his life story.

After googling repeatedly for different Burleigh’s, after dead ends and more dead ends, I’ve found the ULTIMATE dead end. Page one of the album talks about Pittsburgh 1920. Page one had a photo. That photo. It looked so familiar.  Here it is- and what I found online:


That’s a mausoleum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at Homewood Cemetery where Clarence Burleigh the third was laid to rest. Now I have a direct connection to my Clarence who I believe is his son or grandson. After reading about Clarence the third, it looks like he was a well known prosecutor in Pittsburgh. At some point part of the family moved west to  Phoenix, AZ, Madera, CA and eventually they settled in Santa Monica, CA. 

That’s where my trail goes cold.

So I am reaching out to YOU, Pittsburgh.  

Can you help reunite this family with their story. This book includes photos, blue ribbons, original memberships to the scouts, honorable discharge papers from the Air Force, clippings from the Apollo missions, and much more.

The US Air Force has told me it doesn’t keep records on its veterans going back that far. They referred me to the Veterans Administration and the VA has said it can’t help citing HIPAA laws. Unbelievable, but we’re on our own.

This book mentions Clarence, a brother Ted, a mother in law Mary Brown, a Marguerite, and of course Clarence and his military service with the 31st Tactical Wing of the United States Air Force.

Help me find Clarence and reunite the family with their long lost memories. They deserve more than the dusty floor of a second hand store.

Pete Wilgoren

Read parts one and two Searching For Clarence:



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