updated 01/14/2011 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 01/14/2011 AT 5:20 PM ET
“One thing that all cancer survivors talk about is a new depth of feeling that you have for loved ones,” Douglas, 66, said Thursday night during his first public appearance since learning he is cancer-free. At times his voice sounding a bit scratchy, the Wall Street Oscar winner received the Palm Springs Film Festival’s Icon Award, with Zeta-Jones and his brother, Joel Douglas, also there for him.
Underscoring his point about loved ones, Douglas looked at his wife and said, “It’s made us even closer, and certainly there’s a depth of emotion and an appreciation of your daily life that you didn’t have before.”
Though Douglas has been told the tumor is gone, he still knows to exercise caution – and go every month for the next year to be checked by his doctors.
When it came to the moment he received the all-clear signal, Douglas told PEOPLE, “It was sort of interesting, because we both had an inkling before we found out that I had cancer that something was going on, and this was sort of the same – where we kind of knew it before.”
But he said he is holding off any celebrating: “I think I’ll probably be clicking my heels in another couple of months. I’d like to get a couple more clean inspections in there before I say, ‘Whoop-dee-doo.’ ”
And when it came to how his two young children, Dylan and Carys, dealt with his illness, Douglas said: “Well, they’re 10 and 7, and they certainly knew the word ‘cancer,’ but I don’t know if they knew to the extent. I brought them down to the radiation, and they actually thought it was cool because it was this big Star Wars machine, and they put a mask on my face like Hannibal Lecter.”
After a laugh, he said, “They were extraordinarily good about it, because the most difficult part is that it just knocks you out, and so you lie around a lot, and it’s just very frustrating that you can’t get up and play. Their patience was extraordinary, so last weekend we all had a nice little celebration with Catherine, and we went out for some lunch and my son Dylan was like, ‘Uh-oh, that means you can catch me now!’ ”