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PRIDE IN THE MEDIA: Media Marvel

Frank Billingsley weathers a cancer scare with courage.

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Frank Billingsley (photos by Ashkan Roayee).

Pride in the Media is an ongoing series on local LGBTQ media personalities and ally representatives of queer-affirming local media outlets.

It is difficult to find anyone in Houston who doesn’t like Frank Billingsley.

The handsome, funny, authentic, and decidedly human chief meteorologist for KPRC Channel 2 has been holding viewers’ hands through dire local weather events for nearly three decades. Somehow, Billingsley’s calm, kind manner has sustained us each time.

Recently, the popular weatherman also became a published author. Billingsley, who was adopted as a baby, wrote Swabbed and Found to describe his extensive search for his biological family.

That search was not an easy journey for Billingsley, but one would never suspect that from his sunny, warm personality. He was born in Arkansas in 1960 and adopted almost immediately by a wonderful Alabama couple who enveloped the youngster in love, humor, and compassion. And when Billingsley realized he was gay, he was concerned about the impact that would have on his caring parents.

“Typical of an adopted child, I was busy being the best all-around boy I could be, so my parents would never doubt their decision to pick me,” Billingsley says.

“Being gay added a difficult element to the dynamic of adoption. People who don’t understand that being gay is biological, and not a choice, sometimes turn to parenting as an explanation. I didn’t want my parents to go through that. I think that’s why I didn’t come out until I was 27 years old. It was to protect them.”

Frank Billingsley has been a hero of Houston’s LGBTQ community since the 1980s. He has been out for years—long before other LGBTQ Houston media personalities. He entered a very public relationship with the love of his life, Kevin Gilliard, in 1995. The handsome couple wed in New York City in 2012. 

“Kevin and I like to think we put the ‘Man’ in Manhattan,” Billingsley says with a laugh.

Unbeknownst to Billingsley, KPRC had plans to celebrate the happy event during a live news broadcast. KPRC news anchor Dominique Sachse, a dear friend of Billingsley’s, congratulated the couple on the night of their wedding as the station flashed photos of the grooms on the screen and the newsroom cheered. It was a bold act of recognition and inclusion unheard of in Houston at the time.

Did his fans abandon him after the wedding? Some did. Billingsley lost 500 Facebook friends overnight—before gaining 5,000 more during the next week.

What many don’t know is that Billingsley had to summon his winning brand of humanity and courage recently after being diagnosed with prostate cancer last August.

Asymptomatic at the time, the cancer was detected after a routine PSA test revealed prostate-specific antigen protein in his blood. His PSA reading of 25 was nearly “off the charts” for someone so young. (A reading of
4 is enough to trigger alarm and further medical tests.)

“I had to wait a week to find out if the cancer had spread to the pelvic area or bones. Given such a high PSA, my urologist cautioned me to prepare for that. I was terrified,” Billingsley recalls.

“It had been seven years since my last PSA test. During the week’s wait, I realized I had to warn other men and encourage them not to overlook it like I did. It’s a simple blood test, and early detection of any cancer is the key to surviving,” he stated firmly.

As that horrible week of waiting dragged on, Billingsley made a decision that would alter the trajectory of his journey. “During those wide-awake early-morning hours of worrying, I decided to go public regardless of my test results. I felt morally compelled to use my platform to warn others.

“I went on-air and announced my cancer without knowing its extent. As it turned out, Dr. Naomi Halas, a Rice University [professor] who pioneered the use of gold nanoparticles to treat prostate cancer (called AuroLase therapy) saw me on TV and soon got in touch. As it turned out later, my bone scans came back negative, but the implication of my prostate was extensive.”

AuroLase therapy, nicknamed “the gold standard” of cancer treatment, is a two-part process. Patients are infused intravenously with a solution containing gold nanoparticles on the first day, and sent home to allow the nanoparticles to disperse and find the cancer.

When the patient comes back the next day, laser light is applied where the nanoparticles have collected in the greatest numbers and density. Doctors remove the cancerous areas by heating up the nanoparticles to make the gold vibrate, which destroys the disease. The use of about $6.50 worth of gold can be enough to save a life.

“Gold is a safe material, and it has been used in humans for hundreds of years. Think about all of the people who have gold fillings in their teeth for their whole life,” Canfield said.

“I was patient number 3 in Houston’s test study, and number 29 in the U.S.A. The treatment is still in trials, and mine occurred in late November 2018,” Billingsley said. 

“Did it work? My February follow-up revealed my PSA had dropped from 25 to 0.1 and there was no sign of cancer on the MRI or in the biopsy! While I went on TV [in order] to help others, it turned out to help me. I honestly think the treatment saved my life.” Billingsley concluded with his warm smile. “Now it must save others.”

For more about Frank Billingsley’s book Swabbed & Found, visit frankbillingsley.com .

This article appears in the June 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Kim Hogstrom

Kim Hogstrom is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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