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Bob Schieffer And Bladder Cancer: A Survivor’s Story

Bob Schieffer is broadcast journalism’s most experienced Washington reporter. He has covered Washington for CBS News for more than 30 years, and has been the anchor for Face The Nation (one of the longest-running news programs in the history of television) since 1991. I had the privilege of interviewing him about his bladder cancer at the CBS studios today. It is Bob’s sincere hope that his story will inspire others to seek medical help at the first sign of bladder cancer, and also gain comfort from knowing that they are not alone.

This is part two of our interview series. Click here for part one.

Dr. Val: Do you have any advice for patients facing bladder cancer?

Schieffer: Bladder cancer is a very insidious disease, you can have it for a long time without knowing that you have it. At the first sign of blood in the urine, you need to go to the doctor. I think men are often reluctant to go to the doctor, and their tendency may be to attribute blood in their urine to a muscle strain of some kind. But waiting is a dangerous proposition. When I think of my own situation, I realize that even waiting another week or two could have put me into a whole different risk category and I might not be where I am today.

Cancer research is such an evolving field – that if you can keep yourself alive today, there may be a cure tomorrow. That’s the good news about this. The bad news is that we spend about as much on cancer research in a year as we do on one day in Iraq. I don’t know anyone in the cancer community who doesn’t believe that if we invested enough money in it we’d find cures.

Dr. Val: Was it hard for you to speak publicly about your cancer?

Schieffer: Tony Snow and I became really good friends, and we both felt that we had an obligation to talk about our conditions in order to promote cancer awareness. Hamilton Jordan was also a good friend of mine, and he devoted his life to raising awareness. He survived 5 cancers though the 6th one got him. I was a very private person before all this started, and when Hamilton found out I had cancer he called me and said that I really needed to get out and talk about it because I have the opportunity to have an impact on so many people.

As it turned out, I went on Don Imus’ radio show one morning and talked about it, and soon afterwards Wolf Blitzer asked me to be on his show on CNN. I must have received 600 emails from people thanking me for talking about my situation – some were glad to know how to recognize potential bladder cancer, and others told me they no longer felt alone in their cancer experience because they knew that I was going through it too. At that point, I thought to myself that speaking out about my cancer might have been the most important thing I’ve done so far as a journalist. If one person goes to see their doctor when they first notice blood in their urine, then I may have had a part in saving a life.

Bladder cancer is a ”below the belt” disease and people are reluctant to talk about it. I think it’s really important to help people get past this barrier. It is nothing to be ashamed of, there’s nothing wrong with you as a person – it’s just that a certain percent of us are going to get bladder cancer.

Dr. Val: How do people get plugged in to the cancer community to get the help they need?

Schieffer: What I’ve noticed is that when you get cancer, you become acqainted with everyone else who has it. There’s a kind of natural networking that occurs when you participate in meetings and events. However, I’d encourage people affected by bladder cancer to go to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network. The founder, Diane Quale, left her job as an attorney to create the advocacy group after her husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer. She has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause, although sadly her husband lost his battle with bladder cancer a few weeks ago.

Hamilton Jordan told me this, “You have to take control of your disease. Nobody is going to be more interested in it than you. It’s your life, so you’re the one who has the most invested in this. Just Google ‘bladder cancer’ and learn as much as you can about it.”

When you go to a doctor, especially with cancer, it’s invaluable to get a second opinion. I got a second opinion from a wonderful physician at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Mark Schoenberg. And Dr. Schoenberg told me this: “A doctor is like a good craftsman. A good craftsman is always happy to show his work to other craftsmen. It’s the guy who isn’t really sure what he’s doing who doesn’t want to discuss his work with somebody else in the field.”

Dr. Val: What’s your bottom line about cancer?

Schieffer: Cancer is not something to be embarrassed about. It’s something that happens to us and needs to be dealt with. When the doctor tells you that you have cancer, it is not the death sentence that it once was. Cancer research is advancing every day and we’re finding new ways to fight the disease. There’s no need to say, “I have cancer – this is it” but rather, “I have cancer and what do I need to do about it?” And then you have to do it.

*Visit the bladder cancer center at Revolution Health*This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.


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