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.