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James Michael Tyler, the actor who played Gunther on Friends, reveals that he has stage 4 prostate cancer.
The 59-year-old appeared on Monday's Today show to speak about his cancer journey. He was diagnosed in September 2018, he shared, but it was not caught early. It has since spread to his bones and he can no longer walk. He's undergoing chemotherapy.
"I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones," Tyler told Craig Melvin. "I've been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three years." However, "It's stage 4 [now], late-stage cancer, so eventually, it's gonna probably get me."
Tyler's cancer was detected through a routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test — his first at age 56. A normal PSA number is around 1; Tyler's was 654. (Doctors recommend that Black men or men with a history of prostate cancer get their first at 40. All others, at age 45.)
At first, he was treated with hormone therapy and he felt well. However, things took a turn amid the pandemic when he "missed going in for a test, which was not a good thing," His cancer mutated and he suffered fractures in his bones, and tumors up and down his spine. It led to paraplegia, or paralysis of the lower body. He's currently undergoing chemo, which is "aggressively" fighting the disease.
Tyler said he regrets not listening to his wife, who has been his "strength in all of this. I would have gone in earlier. It would have been hopefully caught earlier. Next time you go for a just a basic exam or your yearly checkup, please ask your doctor for a PSA test. Caught early, 99 percent treatable."
He added, "I don't want people to have to go through what I've been going through. This is not ... an easy process."
Dr. Matthew Rettig, a research scientist and oncologist at UCLA who treats Tyler, said, "With prostate cancer, it's a little bit different from other cancers in that when it is diagnosed early, it's almost always cured. When it's diagnosed late, it's rarely if ever cured."
Rettig did genetic testing to determine that Tyler's illness was genetic, not environmental. The actor later learned that his sibling had prostate cancer, but hadn't shared his diagnosis.
Tyler says his goal "this past year was to see my 59th birthday," he said, fighting back tears. "I did that. My goal now is to help save at least one life."
Tyler recently appeared in the Friends HBO Max reunion special — but via Zoom. He said he didn't want to make it about his illness.
"I didn't want to be like, 'Oh, and Gunther has cancer,'" he said. "I didn't wanna bring a downer on it, you know?" He said he was "very happy to be included."
He noted David Schwimmer and the producers were aware of his illness. On the mega-hit show, he played Central Perk fave Gunther, who carried a torch for Jennifer Aniston's Rachel.
He's appeared on episodes of Scrubs and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. He also Matt LeBlanc's post-Friends series Episodes.
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