May 15, 2000 12:00 PM

Taking advice has never been his strong suit. But even in the midst of running the country’s largest metropolis and waging a heated battle for the U.S. Senate against First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did find time, apparently, to heed a warning from his past. At an April 27 press conference in city hall’s Blue Room, the mayor announced he had taken a PSA blood test and been diagnosed with prostate cancer, two decades after his father, Harold, a Brooklyn tavern owner, died at 73 after a 10-year bout with the disease.

“It brings up very painful memories,” Giuliani, 55, said of his own diagnosis, showing a vulnerability rarely seen since he came to prominence as a Mob-busting U.S. attorney in the 1980s. “I miss my father every day of my life. He’s a very, very important reason for why I’m standing here as mayor of New York City.” And also, presumably, for why Giuliani made a point of undergoing the standard screening test that uncovered his illness, expected to be found in 184,500 men in the U.S. this year (among those diagnosed in recent years: golfer Arnold Palmer, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and retired general Norman Schwarzkopf). Although 30,000 of those will eventually die of the disease, which most often strikes men over 50, doctors emphasize that when caught early it is eminently treatable, either surgically or with radiation. Says Dr. Herbert Lapor, chairman of New York University’s urology department, of Giuliani’s cancer: “If everything is as favorable as we are led to believe, it means the cancer cells were confined to the prostate itself, and [after surgery] this will never surface as a problem in the future.”

Following Giuliani’s announcement, the First Lady phoned for what his campaign manager Bruce Teitelbaum called “a brief but cordial conversation.” It remains to be seen what effect the diagnosis will have on the Senate race, in which polls have shown Giuliani and Clinton in a statistical dead heat. “The mayor has instructed me not to make any changes in his campaign schedule,” says Teitelbaum, “at least for the immediate future.”

Obviously his illness comes at a difficult time for the mayor, whose administration has been under fire for racial divisiveness following controversial police shootings of two unarmed black men. But even Giuliani’s most vocal critic, the Rev. Al Sharpton, put rhetoric aside to wish him a complete recovery.

Somewhat muted was the reaction of Donna Hanover, 50, Giuliani’s wife of 16 years, an actress and correspondent for FOX News. Rarely seen with her husband over the last three years—since a swirl of rumors (denied by Giuliani) that he was romantically involved with his press secretary—Hanover at first issued a terse statement saying only “I will be very supportive of [him] in dealing with the choices he has to make.” But days later, the mother of Giuliani’s two children, Andrew, 14, and Caroline, 10, announced that “due to personal family circumstances” she would postpone performing in the sexually explicit Off-Broadway play The Vagina Monologues, which Giuliani reportedly said he wouldn’t be seeing.

In all, this latest crisis seemed to open a chink in the armor of the Brooklyn-born Giuliani, who once considered studying for the priesthood and instead made a name for himself battling mobsters and insider traders on Wall Street before becoming mayor seven years ago. Three days after his announcement, appearing before local Republicans upstate, Giuliani “was still in somewhat of a shock,” says Erie County’s chief executive Joel Giambra. “There were times he said he asked himself, ‘Why me?’ ”

But those who know him best have little doubt how Giuliani will face this latest crisis. “He’ll take it like he does anything else in life,” says former deputy mayor Peter Powers, a close friend. “He’ll control it as best he can.”

Susan Schindehette

Matt Birkbeck and Veronica Byrd in New York City

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