I’m back! And here I go …

To my friends, colleagues, and readers:

Many of you have noticed my absence from The Kansas City Star. In fact, I haven’t had a byline there since Christmas. I’ve been on a long medical leave, one that was longer and more medical than I ever bargained for.

More on that in a moment. But let’s not bury the lede: I am happy to report that I am fully recovered and ready to get back in the saddle. As I do, however, I will be riding away from my employer of 15 years and life as a professional media critic. I’ll continue to blog and blab about media, but in the months and years ahead I will be pushing myself into the field of longform writing — essays and books — and embarking on some other projects that were impossible to even think about while in daily journalism.

If you haven’t got time to read another 1,400 words, will you do me this one favor? Join Aaronslist, my new announcement list that will send out emails on those very occasional occasions when I publish something or have some news to share. If you join, I will send you a free e-book (that you’ll actually read).


On February 17, 1994, I started my newsletter covering the TV talk-show competition that was, in those pre-9/11 days, blithely referred to as the “late night wars.” The novelty was that I was writing for the Internet, something hardly anyone was doing at the time, so it was easy to get noticed. Within three weeks the Village Voice was paying me to write a freelance column. A year later, I quit my day job.

So here I am again, leaving the security of a paycheck to do something new. It’s time. A memo from the editor-in-chief went out today to the staff, and included this farewell statement from me:

“First let me say how grateful I am for all the cards and emails of encouragement sent in the past few months, messages that I have read and re-read. Thank you as well to everyone who protected my privacy during this long healing process. Not only did I have a full recovery, but my clinical trial at NIH has given me a way forward with this chronic condition, so that I don’t have to fear the kind of debilitating relapse that sidelined me for much of the past year.

“Being sidelined, however, did give me a chance to contemplate what I might do with my life once I recovered. I realized that I had a strong desire to take my writing to the next level, and that this would likely involve stepping away from the world of mass media. In addition, there were other projects I have wanted to pursue but couldn’t because of my employment at The Star. In the end, the force of these possibilities proved irresistible.

“The irony is that I could only imagine leaving The Star because of all The Star has given me. Simply put, I would not be the writer or the person I am today had Steve Paul not called out of the blue nearly 16 years ago to inquire of my interest in coming to Kansas City. Though I am eager to do new things, my affection remains undiminished for this great newspaper and the community of FYI who supported me in sickness and in health all these wonderful years.”

About those projects, I don’t have much to announce right now, which is the reason I set up the cleverly named Aaronslist, so I can let you know when there is news. But I will say that a couple of projects are collaborations with my wife Diane Eickhoff, including a travel guide to the Border War region that should be ready for sale by the spring.

I know there have been questions asked about the secrecy with which I conducted my recovery. Many of you will recall that this was not my first struggle with hairy cell leukemia. After my initial diagnosis nearly 12 years ago, I shared my story freely. I even kept a cancer blog. (That too was a novelty; David Handelman devoted a column to it.) I would come to regret my openness, because much of what I shared turned out to be wrong. I was told recovery would be a snap. Instead, the initial round of treatment failed, I broke up with my doctor, I got myself into a clinical trial in Texas, and though I recovered, staying healthy meant frequent visits to the cancer clinic — something else I hadn’t been warned about.

What I learned from all that was that when everything else in your world seems to be spinning out of control, the one thing you can control is your story.

So this time around, once I decided I needed a leave of absence, I shared my news only on a need-to-know basis: my employer, my colleagues in FYI (the features section), relatives, select friends, and church. Diane generously gave of her time to act as the gatekeeper, sending out email updates to the need-to-knows and replying to the many messages of support and concern. This sounds more coordinated than it was; we patched together the network as best we could. I apologize to those of you I overlooked who probably should’ve been in the loop.

I figured I would share the news with everyone else after I recovered. But recovery took twice as long as I had anticipated, thanks to an opportunistic infection that sidetracked my clinical trial and made my life hell for two months until doctors could identify and tame the beast. I wish I could tell you I caught that sexy superbug floating around NIH, but it turned out to be a bad case of histoplasmosis, one of the most common fungal infections in the Midwest. I probably got it from gardening.

Throughout my ordeal, Diane remained by my side, sleeping on couches and pull-outs at the hospital, being my advocate when I was too sick to think clearly, running errands and interference for me. For that matter, the only reason I’m feeling great today is because she — not I — pushed for new options after it had become clear to her that my treatments in Kansas City were no longer working. Thus began the search that led me to NIH, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The person in the first picture is Jon H. It was his cancer blog that made me aware of the clinical trials underway at NIH. Jon strongly urged me to contact Robert Kreitman, the person I’m standing with in the other picture.

Kreitman has been at NIH since 1988, researching immunotherapies for the National Cancer Institute. It’s a cliche to be in awe of your healer, but even among patients not prone to doctor worship, Kreitman commands respect. In part that’s because he’s chosen to specialize in a disease that’s diagnosed less than 1,000 times a year. “I trust my oncologist,” one of his patients told me, “but as he put it, ‘I’m a leukemia expert … Kreitman is a hairy cell leukemia expert.’ There aren’t many of those in the world.” Mainly, though, Kreitman is revered for his total commitment to getting you back on your feet. There hasn’t been an hour of the day, including 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., when we haven’t talked or exchanged emails. In every crisis, he was there when I needed him.

And this is Jesse, one of my nurses at the NIH Clinical Center, where I spent nearly four months as an inpatient. I wish I had taken more pictures of the nurses who were so helpful and kind to me: my research nurse, Rita Mincemoyer, who retired after 39 years on Thursday (I was her last patient); Kerry Ryan and Kathy Singer, the nurse-practitioners, who made up for the relative brevity of doctors’ visits by talking and listening for as long as was needed to understand my condition and treatment; and, last but not least, all the excellent nurses on 3 Southeast-North, among them Laura, Mike, Tammy, Amber, Amanda, Jeany, Judith, Roxanne, and Jesse.

Friends, if everything run by the government was as well-run as the NIH Clinical Center, even our enemies would have to admit we were the greatest nation on Earth.

Well, that’s it for now. As I say, I’d like it if you joined Aaronslist, and I’ll make it worth your while to do so. I’ve resumed daily blogging on Twitter, so look for me to scratch my media itch there (don’t be surprised if you also see links about gardening, climate change, Greensburg, and religion). I’m using Facebook for what it’s meant to be, a place to yak with my neighbors and friends. If you want to join me there, be sure to send a message with your friend request saying you saw me on TV Barn.


And if I go missing from those platforms, it’s probably because I’m reading a book!


82 thoughts on “I’m back! And here I go …

  1. I’m thrilled that you are feeling better and exploring new adventures in your writing. Congratulations and welcome back!

  2. Wow, Aaron. Your story is amazing and admirable, but I appreciate your privacy during this time so you could focus on healing. You will be missed at the Star, as my entire family looked forward to reading you every day. Thank you so much for how you have supported my writing and my brother’s television obsession. Please know that if there is ever anything we can do for you, we are right here! Actually, I’m right “here” in Cairo, Egypt for a few years, so if you need a break and a warm, cheap, AMAZING place to write, come on over!

  3. Aaron – I have missed your words! Good luck with your new direction. I have been among the wondering. Thank you for sharing your healing story.


  4. So very happy that you are doing better. You have been missed. Best of luck to you, both on your continued recovery, and on your new adventures!

  5. Best of wishes on your new journey. You were the best media critic in KC. I’m sure you’ll be the best at whatever else do.

  6. Aaron, it’s great to have you back. I remember subscribing to Late Show News in the 90s, and looked forward to it every week. I congratulate you on your recovery, and wish you continued health and success in your forthcoming new endeavors. Stories like yours are indeed inspirational. Best of luck as you move forward, and I look forward to reading more of your writing. I hope you might have time to comment on television occasionally as well!

    - Randy

  7. Bless you and your wonderful Diane. Be well and best of luck in your new writing venture. I look forward to reading your works.

  8. Glad to hear the good news. Sounds like you’ve gone more than 15 rounds with one tough SOB.

    I’m just a media weasel in Michigan who enjoys your thoughts and your writing. Stay well.

  9. So thankful for your health. I have been donating blood because of you. Will you stay in KC? The Lord bless your newest endeavors.

  10. I too have been worried about your absence, and recently heard of your illness. So you’ve been on my prayer list recently, and now I’ll give thanks for your good results at the NIH. Keep up the good work, both of you!

  11. Aaron – missed you at press tour this year, and I’m so glad to hear you’re doing well. I look forward to reading more about your future works, and hope you’ll keep in touch. Best, Jim

  12. Congratulations on coming out of the hairy cell closet. Your journey helped me with mine.

  13. Best news I’ve read in months, Aaron. I’m ecstatic over your recovery and more than pleased to see you back up and writing again. And living again. You’ve made a ton of people you likely never met very happy.


  14. So great to hear this Aaron. All your critic pals were worried and it brings a smile to see you in the photos. Best of luck on taking the next step in your writing. Long form? Wow, now that’s a luxury! Glad to see you surface and glad you’re healthy. – Tim Goodman

  15. Rock on, Aaron!
    You and Diane have so many special gifts to contribute to the world. I am pleased & proud to be part of your extended family. So happy that the future looks bright.

  16. Aaron, I am so pleased that you are doing better and will be writing again. Big hugs from your friends in Boston!

  17. I’m glad to hear you are doing better and pursuing a new passion. I know that what ever you do it will be positive because of your willingness to learn and expand into new ideas. My life is better because of you and Diane. God bless you and Diane and on your new endeavor.

  18. Delighted to read about your recovery. Wishing you only the best on your next chapters.

  19. Aaron…I am so happy to hear of your recovery and read about your new adventures. I recently walked away from the work I was doing to write and work on a startup and it’s invigorating to make these changes. I wish you all the best. Good luck and God bless.

  20. Breathing a great sigh of relief, and anxious to read whatever comes next. Best of luck, and please let me know how I can help when you’re in this area.

  21. So very glad for this good news! Best wishes for continued good health, and I’m signing up for Aaronslist right now!

  22. Such great news on the health front but sad to see you leave The Star—a loss for KC…

  23. Glad you’re on the road to recovery! Will continue to miss your byline, but wish you all the best in your new direction. I look forward to hearing more from – and about – you, Diane and your upcoming adventures.

  24. Hey, Aaron! You did it!!

    I am so looking forward to conversations with you and Diane again, although I do like having coffee with Diane too. Looking forward to your writings too.

  25. I love to hear about someone following their dreams. I’m just sorry you had to endure so much. Live happily ever after, Aaron.

  26. Aaron, I’m so happy you’re back and healthy and happy! Congratulations for hangin’ in and coming out the other side — and coming back to your audience — although, in maybe a slightly different way. I used to listen to you on Walt Bodine religiously (not to mention your website and The KC Star column)! We moved to Orlando in 2008 and was then getting the podcasts and using online resources. Then, you were gone. I certainly noticed. I didn’t know how to watch TV anymore! I’ve been lost! Glad you’re going to take your writing to the next level. You will be wonderful. Thanks for staying in touch. You are an inspiration to us all. Thank you!

  27. Dear Aaron, I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing well. Can’t wait to hear more from you.

  28. So great to know that you are doing better Aaron! Many have missed you while you have been recovering. Excited for you and your next adventure. Proud of you for following your dreams… The fall TV season won’t be quite the same…..

  29. Aaron, so glad to hear you are better. It was a pleasure to know you when our paths intermittently crossed. Your new sense of purpose is inspiring. With small burdens come obligation; but sometimes with a great burden comes freedom.

  30. Well, I’ve been here the Late Show news, too, and see no reason of un-following now!

    Best of luck on your continued good health, Aaron!

  31. Terrific news. I’ve been thinking of you every time I give blood. Thanks for the nudge!

  32. Glad you are following your bliss, Aaron, thanks for sharing your story when you were ready. Kent

  33. Glad to hear that you’ve recovered (again). I’ve read your work since the Late Show News days, and I’m looking forward to whatever you choose to do in the future.

  34. Sounds like you’ve been to Heck and back, sir. And having been in your corner from the beginning, I’m *so* happy to hear that you’re moving onward and upward in all directions.

  35. Aaron, glad to hear you finally got the upper hand on the HCL. Best wishes on the new projects!

  36. Hooray to you Aaron! I started reading you in the Star when you first came on board. (In the meantime, the paper quit daily delivery to homes in our little NWMissouri berg. Ratz!) I wish you great happiness and success in ALL that you do!

  37. Great to have you back AB! Both your public and private approaches to dealing with your health issues have been classy and inspirational. Late Show News was actually the first thing I ever read back when I first logged onto the internet, and I am happy to follow you into whatever new form of communication you choose to take us. My family will keep a good thought for you and yours.

  38. blessings on your new adventure. Releasing God’s heart for health and wholeness over you – and His love for dreamers all around! Thank you for the update.

  39. As a fan from back in the newsletter days, I’m thrilled you are back and didn’t have to join a Walter White clinical trial. Best of luck in everything!

  40. I have missed your columns so much! I have been among the wondering. Thank you for sharing your healing story. May you suceed in whatever you do next.

  41. I was alerted to this column by my E-friend Mark Evanier. As a comics fan, we lost one great talent to Hairy Cell Leukemia (Dave Stevens) so I am glad to hear you’re beating it. Continued good health and best wishes!

  42. Dear Mr. Barnhart,
    Your story is extremely inspiring, and I am so proud to call myself a fan of yours. I had wondered where you had been, but having been in a health situation where I did not want the whole world knowing all of my details, I completely respect and understand your need for privacy. You have done a wonderful job at the ‘Star’ for many years, and we have been blessed by your insights. I am so happy for your new beginnings, and I wish you nothing but the best experiences while I look forward to reading anything you submit.
    Grace and Peace,
    Suzanne Miller

  43. I’ve been following you since the TV Barn was created (post Late Show News, I think), and have been Googling intermittently to try and figure out what happened. I have signed up to the list and look forward to reading more stuff from you! And a big Thanks to Mark Evanier who put up the link to get to your new venture.

  44. I have been out of work since mid-November, but you’ve been through much more hell the last several months than I have. I am glad you’re now in good health and I wish you well in your new ventures. Congratulations for winning back your health.

  45. Glad to hear that you’re felling better. I also have missed reading your posts and am sorry that you won’t be writing about television any longer. I will however look forward to reading about what you’ll be doing next. Very best wishes to you and [Diane].

  46. Aaron, I am so pleased to finally hear about you, and equally pleased that you are embarking on new projects, while dealing with your illness. I will always appreciate the accuracy and fairness with which you covered KMBC and KCWE during my dozen years at the stations. I wish you the very best.

    Wayne Godsey
    President and General Manager

  47. I so love a well-told story. You were missed by many at the TCA tours. Can’t wait to read your book and wish you the very best.

    Anne Cowan and the Cable/TCA tour team

  48. Just signed up for your list for I can’t wait to hear about your next adventures. I love working with you and always have and hope to continue so in the future. My prayers will continue and thank you for filling us in on your journey. Hope to see you soon.
    All My Best,

  49. I’m not sure what impresses me more–your complete recovery or the fact you QUIT a newspaper job to tackle long form writing. Either way you’re my new hero. Happy for you Aaron. A toast to your health and looking forward to tracking your new adventures on the Interweb thingy.

  50. Hey guy,

    You’re a rock star journo in my humble opinion. Exceedingly fair with uncommon integrity. Glad to hear the health situation is good. I’ll really miss reading you in the Star, but look forward to following you in the new gig. And I’m looking forward to scarfing down more KC BBQ next time I’m in your fair city.

  51. It was ironic reading about you in today’s KC Star. My husband was diagnosed with HCL in October 2010. He was doing fine until this spring when he was treated for MRSA in 3 different places. He underwent chemotherapy for a second time this summer. Chemo did not take care the HCL. He is now taking shots to boost his white count. I would be interested in talking with you about your treatment experience.

  52. Just read about the new ventures you are pursuing in The Kansas City Star, very excited about them for you and really glad that you’re feeling better… this sounds like an exciting new chapter in your life that you’re about to begin… best of luck on them and we’re all pulling for you!!

  53. There was a void in my life this year, which has now been filled with the knowledge of your recovery. Thank you for sharing your journey so that the rest of us can learn from it. I wish you nothing but blue skies from here on.

  54. Good to hear this, Aaron. I’ve been a reader of yours since the very early days of Late Night News. Good luck in the next chapter of your writing career. Be well!

  55. Just catching up with the news. Glad to hear you’re feeling better and re-engaging your career. Are you in Seattle now? If so, welcome.