Dear Tom (I am calling you that instead of “Mr. Brokaw” because, like millions of Americans, I feel like I know you personally),
I read that you have announced you have cancer, multiple myeloma, and that you and your doctors are optimistic. At 74, no one knows how much time they have left, but I am writing to tell you as a two-time cancer survivor myself, and a medical journalist who covers myeloma, that this is truly a “good time” to have this cancer. It was a lot tougher for your peer, Peter Jennings of ABC, who died of lung cancer in 2005. I know you interviewed him and I am sure it was tough for both of you. But we all need to understand that not all cancers are alike. While progress is being made on subtypes of lung cancer, progress and longer-term survival is much more broad in your condition. The odds are you will get to play with your grandchildren for a long time.
I, myself, was diagnosed with a leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), at age 45 in 1996. By connecting with other patients online, I was directed to world experts far from my home city, I entered a clinical trial, it worked, and I received breakthrough medicine ten years before FDA approval. The disease remains in deep remission today and I have enjoyed a full life. As a patient advocate, I was delighted to see that the news of your diagnosis was not described with the usual dark adjectives that usually accompany a story about a celebrity with cancer. The cancer story is changing. I am an example of that as are several million others – especially with blood cancers like yours where increasingly targeted therapies are being used to knock the disease back. Welcome to the world of “chronic cancer” where we can live with it and hopefully not die from it anytime soon.
The other good news is that new medicines are coming out at a more rapid rate. We discuss this in depth in the myeloma section of our website. The pharmaceutical companies fully understand that our population is aging and that cancer is more likely. So for years they’ve been investing in new drugs or buying up smaller biotech companies that have promising cancer science. Now those efforts are bearing fruit. So the treatment you get next year will probably be different than this year. You have joined us on a journey. But it’s not just a journey of patients. It’s a journey of the researchers and clinic doctors, as well. In my opinion, cancer history, at least for some cancers, is being re-written. This is not the same situation in myeloma that confronted Geraldine Ferraro or baseball’s Mel Stottlemyre. You get the benefit of medical progress and the prospect of even better treatments being there for you in the years to come.
None of this is to say cancer is easy. Anything but that. Whether you have the “good kind” or another more aggressive type, it’s a punch in the stomach. From all appearances you have picked yourself off the floor and not only gone on with your life, but, to your credit, gone public with your diagnosis. You are living proof that a cancer diagnosis does not equal death. I urge you to join us in speaking out. You have world renowned doctors at The Mayo Clinic, a leading center for myeloma research. But many patients have never heard of it or any other major center. Furthermore, they don’t know why their local oncologist may have gaps in their knowledge about this disease. Your message can be what we advocates and the leading experts know, in oncology today the pace of change in many conditions, and certainly this one, is rapid. A new patient must strive to get care or a consultation with a myeloma specialist. The treatments of six months ago may well be outdated. So I am hoping you, a newsman who has covered every imaginable story, can now cover cancer and speak out from a personal perspective.
Mr. Brokaw, this is your next assignment.
Yours in Cancer Survivorship,
Andrew Schorr, Barcelona