CNN’s first sports anchor battles his last days with courage and inspiration.
In 2009, Nick Charles was diagnosed with an incurable bladder cancer. Given four to six months to live without treatment, he chose to undergo grueling chemotherapy treatments that have given him till this day, 21 months of life.
Sharing an intimate conversation with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, Charles, born Nicholas Charles Nickeas, spoke warmly of his five-year-old daughter Giovanni and Cory, his wife of 13 years, a producer for CNN International.
“My wife Cory is as strong as they come,” Charles, 64, said. “Her character is unmatched, unequal. They’re going to strive together and weather the storms together.”
Recording birthday videos for his daughter while his wife holds the camera, the sports legend sings happy birthday for his girl and imparts messages filled with love and wisdom, oftentimes holding back the tears.
Charles decided to stop all treatments in January stating that the chemo was going to kill him before the cancer did.
“I want to feel everything in life while I can,” Charles expressed to Gupta.
For over 40 years, he has covered every major sporting event. Working alongside Fred Hickman for 17 years, he co-anchored CNN’s Sports Tonight.
A recent interview in Sports Illustrated highlighted his love and passion for boxing and gave him the chance to call his last featherweight fight on HBO. He worked a lot at the ringside for Showtime and covered most of the classic matches like when Mike Tyson took a bite into Holyfield’s ear.
To this day he retains a close friendship with Tyson, who he speaks to on the phone three or four times a week. Don King had first introduced the two in the 1980s, declaring the reporter as “one of us.”
Charles offered Tyson advice throughout his primetime, understanding much of his pain and difficulties growing up as he too grew up poor and mentor-less, working late-night jobs throughout his schooling.
“He recalls conversations we had,” said Charles to Gupta. “He wants me to amplify it more. He wants to know what I’ve learned, because I’ve made mistakes in my life.”
“I try not to dwell on the mistakes. You can’t undo them. But I do try to fasten onto the positives, the things that drove me.”
Charles divorced twice and has three other children from his previous marriages.
Reflecting on his marriages, he expressed to Gupta, “I caused a lot of pain. I ripped apart lives. If I have a regret, that’s it. I love all of them.”
“With my illness, they’ve offered me a massive amount of forgiveness.”
Fighting through his cancer day by day, Charles considers every day that he lives blissful.
“He’s handled this like a heavyweight champ,” described Hickman, his former anchor on CNN. “If I can do as well living the rest of my life as he is living out the rest of his, then I will consider it a success.”
“You’re going to get hit. You have to take pain to get it,” Charles said about boxing, and what seemed like his own life. “You have to fight through fear.”
“My story is that again, to never give up on life. It’s imperfect, we’re going to have our huge adversities, we’re going to have our little annoyances, but in terms of what happens to us is 20 percent, in terms of how I react to it is 80 percent,” he shared on CNN.
“I just want to encourage people and inspire them to look at life in that way … that they do have control about the way they view every day.”
Spending much of his time with his family and receiving many calls of comfort from other television stars and athletes, even his former staff, Charles battles through and continues to make short-term goals – to live for one more Easter, until his dream home is complete, and until his 65th birthday on June 30.
While too many Americans fear death, Charles admitted that he embraces it.
Hoping that his final words to his daughter will be, “I’m going to heaven to prepare a place for you and we’re going to be together forever,” the heralded anchor prays that his daughter won’t be the one to find him when he passes.
Reading the Bible often, Charles remains steadfast in his faith, a faith his wife helped rekindle in the 1990s. She “brought me back to the Lord,” he told Gupta.
During moments of pain, he shared that Christ has always been there beside him. At one point, Charles mentioned, Christ sat with him on his bed.
“I’m ready to come home,” he remembered praying. But he heard Christ telling him, “This isn’t the time yet.”
Counselors and hospice workers have informed him about what it will be like in his final days. To ease his pain, he’ll be given morphine.
Struggling with that concept as a Christian, Charles wanted to make sure he wasn’t committing suicide. Saying they weren’t pulling the plug on him early, his care workers ensured that they were just keeping him comfortable until the end.
Charles, reassured, disclosed to Gupta that peace came over him then.
“I can’t believe I feel so good about the last week of my life, but I do … I finally got my life right.”
The sports legend wants his next interview to be with Jesus, followed by a discussion with Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“When that day comes, [I’ll] dance around the ring, [my] head held high, a smile on [my] face. In the 12th round, somebody is going to raise my hand. I’m going to be victorious.”