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Doctor Continues To Help Addicts While Battling Rare Cancer

Author: Andy Sheehan

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A man who spent decades helping addicts find their way to sober living in the Pittsburgh area is now fighting his own battle against cancer.

He’s been stricken with an extremely rare and virulent form of a cancer, and though the odds are stacked against him, Dr. Neil Capretto is neither sad nor bitter, but overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude.

It’s called small cell carcinoma of the gall bladder — only 1 in 100,000,000 people get it.

“Lucky me,” Capretto said. “I would have rather won the lottery, but this is what I have.”

After 52 radiation treatments, 20 immunotherapy treatments and his 48th turn in the chemotherapy chair, you might say that Allegheny General Hospital has become his second home. But Capretto doesn’t spend a minute more there than need be.

While others in his position might retire and book a flight to Hawaii, Capretto heads into the storm of the heroin epidemic — going to work most every day at the Gateway Rehabilitation Institute where he has served as medical director for the past 29 years.

“I feel an obligation to continue to do my work,” Capretto said. “Our community is facing the worst drug epidemic it ever has. Through doing this work for many years, I do have some experience and knowledge that I believe can be helpful.”

For Capretto, being a cancer patient has made him a better doctor, sharing his own experience, strength and hopes with the addicts he treats.

“I say we’re both fighting for our lives. You have an addiction which threatens your life. I’m struggling with cancer. It’s one day at a time,” he said. “If they’re spiritual, I often say God is with us.”

Holding close all the while to the philosophy of recovery he’s espoused for years, focusing on others while putting his own fate in the hands of god.

“It’s really one day at a time for us all. I draw on the serenity prayer,” Capretto said. “I can’t control having the cancer, but I can try to control how I respond to it in terms of my attitude, my mood, how I interact with other people, and I’m trying to make the best of each day that I have.”

Capretto practices what he’s preached to his patients all these years — praying for acceptance, one day at a time, helping him fulfill his mission of helping others.

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