Close to My Heart: I Used to Think My Job Was Killing Me, Until the Assignment That Saved My Life

"Nightline" anchor was reporting on a medical story that soon changed his life.

ByABC News
January 17, 2012, 12:59 PM

Jan. 17, 2012— -- This is what I remember about The Moment.

The California sky outside the doctor's window is impossibly blue, and while his lips are moving, I've stopped listening. The sky reminds me of the Colorado mountain-top where I scattered my father's ashes a few years ago, and I flash to the image of my 8-year-old daughter standing where I stood, sobbing. "She's never been to a funeral," I think.

I snap back to the man in front of me, Dr. David Agus, the kind of specialist you call if you are very rich and very sick. But I am neither, I feel great and I wouldn't even be here if ABC News hadn't sent me. After treating the likes of Steve Jobs, Lance Armstrong and Ted Kennedy, Agus was set to release the most anticipated medical book of the year, and we beat "60 Minutes" to snag the coveted first interview.

READ: 6 Devices That Could Change the Standards of Medical Care

As a way to illustrate the kind of technology he uses, Agus put me through a battery of various tests, including a full-body CT scan. It was all very fun and interesting right until the moment he showed me a picture of the calcification in my heart and told me that if I didn't make some changes, I'd drop dead within five years.

"These lesions in significant arteries in the heart can cause heart attacks in the near term," he said with a noticeable shift in his upbeat tone. "So when we read in the paper about the 45-year-old who went jogging and died of a heart attack. These are the things we worry about."

So this is it. After countless trips to jungles, glaciers and war zones, my first real brush with mortality comes in an office in Beverly Hills. And then fear shifts to guilt. "I deserve this," I thought.

Sure, I don't smoke and I exercise daily but I can't remember my last check-up and don't even have a regular doctor. And while I eat plenty of vegetables and somehow still fit into my college pants, my food pyramid is built mostly with cheese, meat and beer. I've survived 44 years with the willfully ignorant attitude that doctors are for sick people, and I never get sick.

All of this makes me a perfect illustration for "The End of Illness." In his new best-seller, Agus makes the staggering admission that man may never understand cancer, much less cure it. But by employing modern science with old fashioned common sense, he thinks we can prevent deadly diseases altogether.

But it will never happen until he convinces multitudes of boneheads like me to take control of their own health care. With today's cutting edge technology, it is possible to know more yourself than you ever imagined. And even if your genetics are stacked against you, you can use the knowledge to change the odds.

"(Imagine) you're in front of two Chinese restaurants," he explained. "And you look at the ingredient list, they're exactly the same. You taste the food, they're different. Genetics are your ingredient list. You now have the potential to change the recipe a little. And that's the environment."

Check out the ABC News special section on The End of Illness.