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http://www.nydailynews.com/boroughs/sto ... 1959c.html

Janet Moran of Bayside beamed as she watched her father, Jack Moran, 83, walk the Christmas buffet line.

Three weeks earlier Janet and her stepmother, Joan, walked with Jack into Sloan-Kettering cancer hospital where he surrendered himself to the magical hands of Dr. Robert Downey, a thoracic surgeon who does about 400 lung cancer surgeries per year.

In the fall, Dr. Downey diagnosed an aggressive spot on Jack's right lung.

"I had a great feeling about Dr. Downey from the beginning," said Janet, ordinarily a devout pessimist. "He oozed confidence and, most importantly, he was honest, [saying] that because my dad was in his 80s, there could be complications, especially with post-op infection. But he emphasized an 85% chance of survival and encouraged my dad to go for it. If my dad did nothing he would be dead within two years."

The operation would be radical, entering the lung through the ribs, excising the growing monster, and then stitching back together a man who was old enough to remember watching Babe Ruth tower homers into the center field bleachers at Yankee Stadium.

Jack left with his wife and daughter, to go home and mull the huge decision.

This is the most mild-mannered and optimistic of men. He walks through life with a smile as warm as a Yule log on his face. But as a kid of 17 he left the streets of the Bronx, joined the United States Marines, and served in the Pacific Theater in World War II, where he watched a lot of kids his age die before they'd even had a chance to live.

He came home, raised five beautiful daughters, and lost his first wife, Muriel, to cancer when she was just 53. Like a lot of vets, he smoked and drank too much and ate fried food, red meat and gooey desserts.

He met Joan when she was assigned as his nurse after triple bypass heart surgery. They married and she home-nursed him and kept him alive after another open heart surgery, bladder and prostate removals, and after he went deaf during a brain aneurysm operation. Last year, a drunk driver killed his eldest daughter, Donna.

Jack knew his way around death and hospitals better than most doctors.

At 83, Jack is razor sharp. He reads two newspapers a day, several books a month, and roots fiercely for the Yankees and the Jets. He watches closed-caption TV and movies, surfs the Internet keeping track of stocks, sends funny e-mails, and fixates on politics like a rubbernecker of history. The man loves to eat; when a dessert menu arrives, he's still a kid in a Bronx candy store.

The decision to go for the surgery rested with Jack. The day after Thanksgiving, he said, "Ya know, I'm a religious guy, I believe in an afterlife, but something tells me I still want to spend some more time in this life."

And so with Joan and Janet at his side, on Nov 30 Jack Moran stepped into Sloan-Kettering on his aluminum walker and surrendered himself to Dr. Downey's miraculous blade.

"He's an amazing guy," Dr. Downey said. "When a patient is this old, especially whenever you go through the ribs, you just don't know what his reserve is. But Jack's mentally tough. A lot of the success came down to how hard he was willing to work. He's a little older than the average age of our patients, which is 73. He was pushing the envelope but he just had such a great mental attitude that I'm thinking of operating only on tough old Irishmen."

When Dr. Downey went in, he learned the cancer was from a renegade cell that had escaped from Jack's bladder before it was removed years ago. "But it was exactly the same operation we would have done if it had been lung tissue anyway," says Dr. Downey, who was born in New Jersey, graduated Yale and then Columbia Medical School and who has been at Sloan-Kettering for 11 years. "It worked out so well that he doesn't even need any more treatments. For the moment, it's kind of nice to say, Jack Moran is free of cancer."

"Dr. Robert Downey and the thoracic nursing staff at Sloan-Kettering saved my father's life," said Janet.

And so on Christmas Jack piled his plate with turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, drenching it all in gravy. You do that when you come home from World War II, and survive heart, brain and now lung surgery, because each day of life is another dollop of gravy.

Joan sat next to him and Janet and two other daughters, Jackie and Patty, and eight grandkids, all sat around this never-say-die ex-Marine who toughed out another Christmas, with plenty more to come.

"Oh, man, this is living," said Jack Moran, smiling as he dug into his Christmas dinner.

Originally published on January 18, 2007

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