Tom Arnold's 'Rough and Tumble Life'
- Actor Tom Arnold has beaten skin cancer multiple times, has survived alcoholism and addiction along with many other life-threatening injuries, and now he’s living a more conscientious life as a proud dad to two of his best friends: his kids.
- The Iowa-born actor has had multiple basal cell carcinomas, the most common form of skin cancer, and is now a zealous promotor of sunscreen for his kids.
- You can significantly reduce your risk for skin cancer by wearing sunscreen, avoiding tanning beds and avoiding sunburns.
“I think when you have a rough-and-tumble life, you get wounds,” he tells SurvivorNet. “For me as a parent, I have to take care of myself because I’m a single dad.” And still a respected entertainer in “the business” as they call it. He just recently filmed a project in Italy.Read More
“Boy, I heard from a lot of doctors,” he told us, chuckling, “They said ‘Don’t do that.'”
Arnold recently had his umpteenth skin cancer surgery on his back for yet another basal cell carcinoma. His kids, Jax, 8, and Quinn, 5, helped take care of their pops.
“This year, I had some pretty significant things removed that required actual surgery and recovery,” he tells SurvivorNet.
My kids are taking care of the old man tonight ❤️💯 pic.twitter.com/aMMEtL8fBN
— Tom Arnold (@TomArnold) April 20, 2021
A Life of Skin Cancer
Arnold was 23 when he had his first cancer, and he’s been getting them removed ever since.
“They’re raised and in places that don’t heal,” he explains, like when he wears a backpack and the moles get irritated.
“It’s not melanoma. There’s [only] a small chance [basal cells] can metastasize and go to your organs, but you have to stay up on it,” he urges. “But what happened was they had gotten so big. I’ve had pretty significant chunks taken out.”
This most recent “chunk” on his upper middle back was a 6×6 inch square that his doctor had to cut out and was deep enough where doctors had to pull skin over the muscle.
“They have to stretch a lot of skin so it was in a tough spot for recovery,” he shares. “Then you think, ‘If I had a piece that big removed from my face, I’d be in real trouble.’ All of my biopsies have almost always been basal cells, so they don’t just dibble around, they know to take more out for me.” Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most common types of skin cancer.
Growing Up in Iowa
Luckily, Arnold is a lot safer these days—and hyperaware about the dangers of the sun—after having gone through so many surgeries.
“I’m not in the sun like I was growing up in Iowa. No sunscreen. I don’t even know if sunscreen had been invented when I was little,” he says. “You’re out in the fields running around. With your peers, you want to be tan. There’s nothing worse than a farmer’s tan in the eyes of a teenager, especially in a farm town. I remember just getting terribly burned. You know, trying to catch up with the kids with money who went on real vacations.”
It blows his mind how reckless people were when he was growing up.
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“People weren’t talking about these things back then, there was certainly no awareness,” he states. “I think a lot of people put it off, ‘I’ll deal with this later,’ and then it becomes very scary. As embarrassing as it is to take off your clothes for a dermatologist, you’ve just gotta do it. It saves your life.”
Arnold has lost friends to skin cancer, and many forms of cancer in general.
“A lot of people die of cancer where I’m from [in Southeast Iowa],” he shares. “With the skin cancer, a lot of people would get cut up pretty significantly [from cancer getting removed] before they died.”
In Iowa, crop dusters sprayed pesticides (aerially via planes), and Arnold remembers feeling his head getting wet.
“They didn’t say, ‘OK, kids, get out of the fields,'” he quips. “I would always say, ‘well, that can’t be good.’ So there was a lot of that. I wondered if it was that, or the sun, or a combination of pesticides and the sun.”
Arnold says his kids have never been in the sun. “I have a million sunscreens, good ones. They’ve never had a sunburn.”
Taking the tassels off corn was his first job.
“I made $1.40 an hour. You would go down to a parking lot where a bus would pick you up and there would be drifters. I was around 11. And parents would be cool with that bus driving 30 miles from your house,” he shares, incredulously. “You work from sun up to sun down and then you get back on the bus. Things were different then. We would wear as little clothes as possible. Bailing hay was the worst. You’re just constantly itchy. And you’re out there for hours at a time, there’s just no break in the shade.”
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An Emergency Surgery
In 2010, the Roseanne star had a horrific emergency where his intestines ruptured and he developed sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition where the body’s response to an infection starts damaging its own tissues.
Arnold had just married Ashley Groussman, the mother of his kids, and was living in Los Angeles where his career was in full swing. He was in a coma for almost four weeks. “I had something explode inside of me,” he says. “Something genetic that I didn’t even know about.”
He awakened from the coma and realized he had lost a lot of weight. “I thought, ‘This is good,'” he says with a laugh.
But he also realized that he had had a colostomy, an operation that creates an opening for the large intestine, or colon, through the abdomen.
His doctor told him it was only going to be for 90 days, but admitted later it would be longer. “I’m like ok where’s the calendar,” he says. “It was one of those devastating things.”
But then Arnold put things into perspective. The charitable actor has a camp for kids with heart ailments. “It’s called Camp Del Corazon, it’s the biggest heart camp in America for kids with heart defects and heart disease. Those kids have had colostomies since they were born. I said, ‘I need to get over myself.’”
Arnold admits he was having suicidal thoughts, and the doctor knew how Arnold felt about it and wanted to protect him. Thankfully, Arnold miraculously healed within the 90 days. He admits he no longer has a belly button, and his kids always make fun of him.
Then things took another turn for the worse, he caught MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, which is responsible for many hard to treat infections, and he had to get opened back up. “This can happen to people who are septic or have any kind of surgery.”
Then he got MRSA again. He had two PICC lines (a catheter inserted into your veins for easy access to an IV), one in each arm for six months.
“No matter what happens to us, we have to deal with it and get back up,” he says.
A Second Chance at Sobriety After Relapse
Arnold started off doing comedy at University of Iowa in Iowa City, then set out for L.A. to up the ante of his comedic career.
The hit ’90s sitcom Roseanne gave him the boost that he needed to break further into the business on shows like The Jackie Thomas Show and his own program, simply titled Tom. Arnold also hosted Fox Sports Net’s The Best Damn Sports Show Period for eight years, and has appeared on dozens of other TV shows and talk shows.
After years of admitted drug and alcohol abuse, Arnold got clean and sober and remained that way for 19 years. He wrecked his motorcycle in 2008 and broke his scapula (shoulder bone). Doctors gave him a shot of Fentanyl. “As soon as I got that shot, it was on,” he recalls. He says his problem was alcohol and cocaine, never opioids. Until that point. He was on pain meds for a year after that wreck.
“I had to start over,” he admits. “With the pills I was taking, you don’t just say, ‘Oh I’ll take one tomorrow.’” Arnold did a “step-down” method to ween off of pills. “I’m grateful to be alive.”
Luckily, the stand-up comedian has friends like actress Sharon Stone to check in on him. “I grab the cover-up when she Facetimes me,” he admits of the eternally youthful beauty. “We just talked yesterday.”
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Overall, Tom admits he just wasn’t as aware of his body back then, or didn’t care as much. “You have to be aware of your body. And feeling and trusting what you feel.”
Arnold’s primary focus these days is his kids.
It’s hard to say if Jax and Quinn are his best friends, groomers, mini assistants, or perhaps all of the above.
Whether it’s going to outings at restaurants like The Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel, nursing their dad’s wounds in between surgeries, or shaving his beard, the tight-knit clan are most certainly the three Musketeers, with a part-time fourth, Tom’s Off Topic podcast co-host and assistant Sasha Boggs.
“The kids like to play ‘Freeze’ where you have to literally freeze no matter what you are doing,” he explains, adding that they get a little carried away when he’ll be on work meetings or out in public. Arnold makes sure to participate as much as he can, as he’s just crazy about them.
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Aside from Boggs, the kids are not too keen on Tom’s lady friends, and have made their pops well aware that they aren’t having it when women approach him while they’re out. Arnold is mindful of it; he is single, but not actively dating, though he is trying to slowly brace the kids for a possible dating life sometime in the near future.
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In the meantime, he has his skin-monitoring to keep him busy along with family life and entertainment gigs. And it’s certainly commendable for the actor to have turned his life around for the sake of his kids, and most importantly, himself.
Plus, it’s super cool that he enjoys raising awareness for skin cancer, and certainly does not seem too shy about it!
Protecting Yourself from the Sun
As Tom notes, getting regular skin checks are mandatory in preventing skin cancer, especially if you have had early exposure to the sun, or if you tend to get sunburned.
Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified NYC dermatologist, tells SurvivorNet the top five ways to protect your skin from skin cancer.
- Avoid sun during peak hours – This means from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It doesn’t mean you should never go outside during the middle of the day, but make sure you’re protected when you do venture outdoors.
- Cover your skin and eyes – A wide brim hat and sun glasses will protect your face, the top of your head, your ears, and the delicate skin around your eyes.
- Wear an SPF of 30 or higher – This is easy enough. Plenty of facial moisturizers have SPF built into them. Dr. Engelman also recommends reapplying every few hours, or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Get an annual skin check – You can check your own skin for anything that looks out of the ordinary, but you should still get a yearly check to make sure you didn’t miss anything. If you do happen to notice anything out of the ordinary in between checks, schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor about it ASAP — it is always worth it to make sure.
- Avoid tanning beds – This one is obvious … but just a reminder, tanning beds can significantly increase your risk of developing melanoma. If you feel like you’re just too pale, Dr. Engelman recommends a sunless tanner.
Even if you live in an area with cold winters, like Arnold did in Iowa, you still need to protect your skin. Some experts argue that people living in cold-weather states need to protect themselves even more because their skin isn’t as used to those summer months and they may burn more easily.