Arthur Blank reflects on cancer: ‘Live life to its fullest’

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on February 12, 2016

Arthur Blank is approaching cancer the same way he has approached his business, sports and philanthropic career — methodically, strategically and heart-felt.

Blank is the high-profile owner of the Atlanta Falcons, a team he bought after leaving The Home Depot Inc., which he co-founded with Bernie Marcus and others.

In a deeply personal Feb. 9 interview given exclusively to Atlanta Business Chronicle, Blank spoke about being diagnosed with cancer and its prognosis; advice he would give other men; and how it has helped him adjust his priorities.

Over his life, Blank, 73, has faced numerous challenges — being fired as a key executive of Handy Dan, undergoing two divorces, and experiencing all the ups and downs of being the owner of a professional football team that is building an elaborate new stadium.

Arthur Blank Georgia Trend

Arthur Blank speaks at Georgia Trend’s 100 Most Influential luncheon on Jan. 26, when he was inducted into its Hall of Fame (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“My focus has been that it’s curable, and it’s another blip on the screen in my life,” Blank said. “I’ve dealt with others. We will figure out the best treatment plan and do that. In terms of prostate cancer, I think my approach has been that we will deal with this as a family — particularly with my fiancée.”

Sitting in one of the front rooms of his Buckhead home, Blank opened up about how he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in mid-December.

“It’s a simple story,” Blank began. “Every year I get a full physical including the PSA test. Historically my PSA has been low or normal.”

But when he took the PSA test, it was inflated. Doctors repeated the test, and it was still inflated. That’s when he had a biopsy that showed it was cancer.

So Blank, accompanied by his fiancée, Angie Macuga, went on the road.

“We went to a number of facilities — all the right ones, and we looked at multiple forms of treatment,” Blank said, adding he underwent several scans to make sure the cancer had not spread. “It appears that the cancer is contained. It’s very treatable, but it can’t be ignored.”

Blank said he and Macuga became experts on prostate cancer — considering a variety of treatments and considering several viewpoints from multiple physicians.

“Angie and I spent more time on this than I want to admit,” Blank said. “You hear a lot and you make a decision that’s most comfortable to you.”

Don Garber Arthur Blank

MLS Commissioner Don Garber chats with Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank before official unveiling ceremony

For Blank, that decision was to have surgery.

“Many factors went into it. There are so many great places to get treatment, including here in Atlanta,” said Blank, who did not identify either the physician or the hospital where he will have surgery sometime in February. “It can be complicated, but once you make the decision, you are at peace with it. It’s a process you go through. That’s what the people who know me expected me to do.”

Blank was only 15 when his father died of heart failure in his 40s. But Blank’s mother lived just four months shy of her 100th birthday, passing away last year.

“The physician who is doing the surgery told me, ‘We are going to make sure you live as long as your mother.’ The best-case scenario was to do surgery,” Blank said. “The prognosis is that my cancer is very curable. It’s a matter of picking a treatment plan that makes the most sense, which we have done, and we’re doing it fairly quickly.”

A top priority for Blank is keeping his family — his six children, Macuga’s three children and his brother — in the loop with what was going on.

“I spent a lot of time talking to my kids about it,” Blank said. “Once they heard it was treatable, they were at peace.”

For Blank, getting cancer was “another reminder that when you are dealing with certain diseases that can be fatal, you have to take prostate cancer very seriously. It’s the second largest killer of men in the United States after lung cancer.”

Arthur Blank Dena Kimball

Arthur Blank with his daughter, Dena Kimball, when he was inducted into Georgia Trend’s Hall of Fame on Jan. 26, 2016 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

So Blank has made it a time to refocus his energies and reassess where he is in life.

Long before the diagnosis, Blank already had made the decision to pull back from the day-to-day running of his business interests.

Steve Cannon, the former CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, started his job as CEO of the AMB Group LLC at the beginning of February. In that role, Cannon will oversee the business operations of the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer, the Atlanta Falcons Stadium Co., the development of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium that is scheduled to open in 2017; PGA TOUR Superstore; and Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.

The various enterprises also have strong leadership in place: Rich McKay, president of AMB Sports & Entertainment; Darren Eales, president of Atlanta United FC; Dick Sullivan, president and CEO of PGA TOUR Superstore; and Yancey Arterburn, general manager of Mountain Sky Guest Ranch. They all report directly to Cannon.

“All our businesses are in great shape,” Blank said, adding that it gives him comfort knowing the businesses are being well-run.

Blank, a major philanthropist (having given away about $300 million in the past 20 years), is even more focused on helping create a better quality of life for people.

A new element is the guidance he would give other men about their health.

“Early detection is important,” Blank said. “Some of these cancers can be fairly aggressive and as you know can move fairly quickly. You should do a PSA check every year at a minimum, maybe every six months. The physical exam is not much fun.”

Then he laughed remembering how his fiancée had described those exams as Blank “making several new friends.” The cancer has not changed their plans to get married in June.

“My recommendation is that all men get regular check-ups,” Blank said. “And it’s another reminder to live life to its fullest.”

If he does live as long as his mother, Blank would have more than 25 years. But he’s also aware that others aren’t so fortunate.

“There’s a big challenge today with the issues of childhood obesity,” Blank said. “The next generation may have a lower life expectancy than we do. That doesn’t speak well for the quality of life in our communities.”

Although the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has been targeting quality of life issues for decades, Blank is committing even more of his time and energy to his philanthropic endeavors.

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Arthur Blank at the announcement of Mercedes Benz as naming rights partner of new stadium (Photo by Maria Saporta)

During the interview, he talked about the plans to revitalize the neighborhoods west of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.

“The foundation is going well,” Blank said. “We’ve got to get a plan done for the Westside, one that’s endorsed by all the Westside communities. We have major partners anxious to support this — if there’s a plan.”

Meanwhile, Blank is anxious to “get past the operation” so he can devote more of his time to realizing the dream of a vibrant Westside.

“I’m not scared of surgery, but I wish it was over with,” Blank said, adding that he’s had many surgeries. “I feel very sure that I won’t die from prostate cancer. But it’s a reminder you don’t have forever to live.”

For Blank, cancer has given him another opportunity to reflect and take stock on what he’s done and still wants to do.

“I’m blessed,” Blank said. “I have got a great fiancée, six kids or nine with Angie’s kids, a great brother. It’s really not about me. It’s another reminder that you have got to take these diseases seriously. You owe it to your family and the people who care for you.”

And Blank, who has lived an incredibly rich life, closed by saying, “It drives us to the need to live life in a full and complete way.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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