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Billy Foster, of Gary, was in New York's Times Square last month when he looked up and saw his face smiling back at him.

Foster was featured on a billboard campaign in midtown Manhattan for the month of October for a campaign featuring people living with cancer.

The 70-year-old has stage 4 cancer that has metastasized to his lungs and liver.

"It's something that I can't get rid of," the former elementary school teacher said. "The best option is to be able to keep it stable."

He doesn't let the disease slow him down. He plays piano in a jazz trio. He hosts a weekly radio show on WGVE-FM in Gary. He teaches jazz piano at Indiana University Northwest.

In 1996, Foster had a kidney removed because it had a cancerous tumor. Everything went well until 2007, when doctors discovered the cancer had spread to his liver, lungs and brain.

Foster appeared on the Times Square jumbotron for the "This is Living With Cancer" campaign, which is sponsored by Pfizer and promotes the LivingWith mobile app that provides support and resources to cancer patients. An article and video about him and other survivors are featured on the campaign's website.

"We hope our stories will get someone else through their journey with this disease," he said. "I've been quite fortunate. It's been somewhat of a miracle. Kidney cancer patients usually don't live this long.

"The message is that you can live with this disease fairly successfully. You can live a productive life with cancer. There are going to be more remedies coming online, so there are going to be more people living with the disease instead of dying with the disease."

Foster is heavily involved in the cancer community. He and his wife, Renee, recently attended conferences for the Kidney Cancer Association in Miami and Association for Cancer Research in Atlanta. He is on a patient advisory council at the University of Chicago. He has gone to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers for increased funding for cancer research.

He believes that research is the reason he's alive. When his cancer spread in 2007, he took part in a clinical trial, and the medication stabilized his condition. He's now on a medicine that was developed during the time he was in the trial.

"Most people don't live as long as I have. I feel like I've been blessed. I feel like there's a reason for that blessing, and I want to give back as much as I can," he said. "I don't feel like I'm just here for the heck of it, you know what I mean."


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.