John Tesh Talks about Love, Pain and Finding His Rhythm
John Tesh’s rich baritone voice is as immediately familiar on a cell phone as it is to millions of radio listeners.
“Hi, it’s John,” he says. “We just wrapped up the radio program, so I wanted to go ahead and call before something unexpected pops up.”
His “guy next door” persona permeates the six-time Emmy winner’s dialogue, and despite a professional resumé that includes three gold records, two Grammy nominations, seven public television specials and record sales of eight million, Tesh is refreshingly down-to-earth and candid.
“I’ve been through a lot the last several years,” he says, referencing his prostate cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments. “Now I’m sharing my story and hopefully helping others in a similar situation.”
As the host of Intelligence For Your Life—a radio program that amasses 34 million gross impressions each week—Tesh works six days out of seven on the show that he describes as “part music, part life advice.” Just one of his many professional passions, Intelligence For Your Life is the latest addition to an entertainment career that spans three decades and now also includes a weekly television program and a robust Facebook page with 15 to 20 million engagements each week. The multimedia platform is an ideal complement to Tesh’s 25+ annual concert performances—a rigorous schedule that would exhaust most people.
“I’m up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. every day, and that’s usually when I start editing the radio show,” Tesh says. “After that, I practice piano, and then I’ll go outside and swing a kettlebell for a while. Then I come back and start recording the radio show. I am at my most effective early in the morning, so that’s when I get started.”
His First Journey into Pain
Tesh’s jam-packed calendar has also included a fair amount of time in medical facilities over the past two years. Following the cancer diagnosis in 2015, he began treatment and recently completed his latest round of chemotherapy, adding another chapter to a pain journey that started decades earlier. Although the medical challenges have been excruciatingly difficult at times, Tesh says the experiences led him to a renewed focus on faith, family and love.
“I broke my back playing lacrosse in college,” recalls Tesh. “I was in so much pain and had so much neuropathy that I ended up on what I call the Vicodin and vodka diet. It was the only thing that worked. I don’t recommend it. That should have killed me.”
The injury eventually landed Tesh in a wheelchair, with a sense of desperation to find something that would alleviate the agonizing pain. He remembers the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and nearly unbearable despair that dominated almost every waking hour and credits his wife, actress Connie Sellecca, and son, Gib, with helping him find his way.
“Looking back, there were a lot of therapies I should have tried, like acupuncture, but I didn’t,” Tesh says. “That’s why I tell people that you really have to be careful with opioids.… I believe I was on the verge of an accidental overdose.”
Unable to walk for any length of time and reliant on medication to get through his days, Tesh turned to his family and friends. Sellecca kept working to find the right doctor, one that would improve his condition and “not just hit the symptoms of the pain.” In addition to obtaining a second medical opinion that would transform his treatment, Sellecca also rallied the couple’s family and friends for spiritual support.
“We live a Christian lifestyle in our family, and I tell everyone that it is important to have an advocate,” Tesh says. “My wife was a tremendous advocate for me, and then when people started praying for me, things really began to change.”
Pain: Part Two
Surgery turned out to be the answer to Tesh’s back pain. After the operation, life gradually returned to normal for the concert pianist and singer, but he says he never forgot the experience or what it taught him, something that helped him when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer decades later.
“A cancer diagnosis is a journey for the whole family,” Tesh says. “When one member is in constant pain, other family members want to offer support, but they just get worn out after a while. So you learn to take ‘small bites,’ to keep the treatment manageable. When I was scheduled for chemo, I learned to only think 20 minutes ahead. Then after I had a treatment, my wife would take me to the ocean. Being on the water is my happy place, and she made sure I had that time.”
A self-described Type A personality, the IFYL host points out that the cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments prompted him to change a lot of his regular habits. Along with the usual medical interventions, Tesh adopted a vegan ketogenic diet, a regular exercise/fitness routine and new work habits.
“Most people don’t take life-changing steps until someone pulls the rug out from under them,” he says. “Our lives were turned inside out, and something like this changes you forever.”
Tesh says that his faith in God and his love for his wife have never been as strong as they are post-cancer. Recalling intense pain that left him wondering if he had the strength to withstand treatment, Tesh says that the family’s love and commitment helped him battle the side effects that accompanied getting better.
“Having faith and finding the right way to pray really got me through it,” he says. “Connie and I worked with Andrew Wommack, who coached us about a different way to pray. You have the authority to heal yourself if you don’t have doubt, but it’s a battle. We spend a lot of time in our lives in pessimism.”
Tesh is passionate about advising others to take more control with regard to medical issues. His particular form of prostate cancer is rare and was discovered during a physical exam with his general practitioner, not through a blood test. Tesh notes that his own experience underscores the importance of individuals taking charge of their health, especially when something seems wrong.
“I had incredibly aggressive tumors, but they did not have any of the usual blood markers. That’s why I stress that people have to understand what types of tests are available and do what’s necessary to have the right ones, even if they don’t fall under the usual procedures.”
The Love Story that Followed
Today, Tesh and Sellecca work in their home-based radio studio, sharing their life experiences with their viewers and listeners and bringing in experts to offer advice. A common theme revolves around how Tesh’s medical challenges actually strengthened their marriage and commitment to each other.
“We’ve been married for 25 years now, and I have never been more in love with my wife,” Tesh says. “The most intense love you can have is Agape love, which is unconditional love. It’s usually thought of more in relation to children, but that’s where I am with Connie. The things she’s done for me, I’ll never be able to repay. If she hadn’t been there for me, I don’t know if I would be here today. When you want to give up and you have someone by your side who is not going to let that happen, it makes all the difference in the world.”
Both Tesh and Sellecca adopted the vegan ketogenic diet and eat a plant-based diet that includes a lot of leafy greens like spinach and kale and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. They eat “at most two meals a day,” according to Tesh, and often fast 16–18 hours a day. Olive oil is a staple in their diet, and they make choices like drinking coffee with coconut oil. Sellecca has even perfected a ketogenic ice cream that she makes with coconut oil and coconut whipped cream. Tesh says the food routine has numerous benefits.
“One big difference is that I don’t think about food all the time anymore,” he explains. “And the mental acuity is tremendous. We can get just six hours of sleep a night and still have so much energy. My son, Gib, adopted the diet as well, and now he’s just ripped physically. It’s energizing.”
Daily exercise is another mandatory to-do list item for Tesh as well. Along with the kettlebell, he might do high-intensity 12-minute workouts to get his heart rate at peak level, and he says that he pays a price if doesn’t maintain the commitment.
“If I miss a workout, I’m in a bad mood. It’s not negotiable.”
September and October mark the start of his 2017 concert tour, and Tesh says he is ready to hit the road again. Along with the music, he shares part of his story with his fans while onstage, and the interactions allow him to give back to others, much like people helped him during his darkest hours.
“I got a great deal of comfort from some of the online cancer forums while I was in treatment,” Tesh says. “And people will come up to me and share their own stories now. It’s a privilege to be part of their journey.”
PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.