Tom Brokaw joined me today to discuss his wonderful new book, which is a combination memoir, guidebook to the world of being a cancer patient, and cautionary tale even for the healthiest of people, A Lucky Life, Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope
HH: Over at Hughhewitt.com, you’ll see a link to the Jake Brewer Memorial Education Fund for the family of our friend, Mary Katharine Ham, whose husband was killed on Saturday raising money for cancer awareness in a 150 mile bike race in Washington, D.C. Jake worked at the White House. Mary Katharine, of course, on O’Reilly and my guest host, and all of you have been so generous to her. A link at Hughhewitt.com. It is not a small irony that he was raising money to battle cancer, and that my guest this hour has written an amazing book about cancer. Tom Brokaw, of course, is known to everyone in America as the longtime anchor of NBC, the former White House correspondent during Watergate, the anchor of the Today show. He’s authored six bestselling books. But I don’t think I’ve read a book like A Lucky Life Interrupted, his brand new memoir, ever. And it was riveting, and Tom Brokaw, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s great to have you on again.
TB: Thank you, Hugh, it’s a pleasure, and you know, that line about everybody in America knows. I was recently, I was closing a deal on a new automobile, and the business manager said what do you do for a living? And I said I’m a journalist, and he said oh, Are you self-employed? And I said no, I work for NBC. He said do you know the address of NBC? I said yeah, I do think I know the address of NBC. So that said a lot about my familiarity.
HH: How old was that person? I can’t believe that. Whenever I have, you know, I have done Meet the Press with you twice, and nobody wants to know about anything except what’s Tom Brokaw like. And I always say well, he’s a baseball nut, and he’s written this new memoir that’s terrific. So how, was it a 20 year old someone, or someone who hadn’t been watching news ever?
TB: He was an older guy, but you know, he was living in a little cocoon at a car dealership, and then he immediately tried to sell me warranties on all the tires and things that I just paid a lot of money for.
HH: Well, congratulations on A Lucky Life Interrupted. I read it cover to cover in two airplane trips. And when you talked to me in the green room about it, you said it’s for people who have cancer or their families, actually, I think anyone over 50 ought to read this as a guide to what will inevitably happen to them. I put it down to preparation, and it’s, A) I want to have a consult with Jennifer, Bombs Away Jennifer, Bombs Away Brokaw, your daughter, the ER doc, whenever I need someone. But tell people about how this came about. Obviously, you’re a cancer survivor, you’re feeling good, it’s worked. But people may not know about A Lucky Life Interrupted, yet.
TB: Well, I had a great life. You know, I started in a small town in South Dakota, working-class family, and a mother who wanted to go to journalism school, graduated from high school at 16 in the Depression. It cost $100 dollars a year, so that was impossible. So she lived out her journalistic inclinations through me. And I learned my hard work and work ethic from my father, who was a heavy equipment operator on construction crews. And I was able to go from there to the pinnacle of broadcast journalism. And every step of the way, I was grateful for all of the things I’ve learned out there on the prairie. So I get to be 73 years of age, and I’m taking it all for granted. I was bicycling across South America, I was in South Africa for Mandela’s final days, and I was planning a big, big summer of fly fishing. I had this persistent backache. To make a long story short, I go to the Mayo Clinic, where I was on the board, and they say, they do a blood test, and they do a blood test. At the end of it, they turn to me and say you have a malignancy. It’s called muscle multiple myeloma, and the oncologist in charge continued by saying you know, people have died from this – Geraldine Ferraro, who was a vice presidential candidate, Frank Reynolds, the ABC anchorman. We had a very matter of fact conversation about life expectancy and what I was in for, up to a point. And I walked out of there thinking what do we worry about first. And in my case, it was all about my family. They’re going to be okay. I’ve been lucky, financially, and I was going to be able to leave them, if I had to, in a good position to on with the lives that they’ve gotten accustomed to. That was the beginning of a two and a half year ordeal. And I kept a journal at the beginning of it, because that’s what I do, and then I began to think I could probably help other families by the lessons I’m learning.
HH: It is amazingly helpful. And I have linked A Lucky Life Interrupted. It’s a bestseller. Many people are picking it up. But if you’re in the middle of this journey, no matter what your cancer is, and Tom Brokaw had a relatively rare. 1% of cancers are multiple myelomas, but there are 1,658,000 new cases of cancer per year. 1,600 people die daily. The facts are in Tom Brokaw’s book. This will get you ready for it. I will tell you right at the start the most surprising thing, Tom Brokaw. You did not tell your friends. And I’m still surprised by that decision. You told Meredith that when you went back, you didn’t call her from the Mayo Clinic, you went back to see her in person. And then you didn’t let the word out for a long time. Walk people through that decision.
TB: Well, what drove it in part, because I have two lives. The public life is the life I have as a broadcaster and as a journalist, and I have a very private life. And I didn’t want to end up on the internet, Tom Brokaw, cancer victim. I didn’t want to field calls all day long, how are you doing. I knew that would come. I wanted to kind of figure out what kind of a lifestyle I was going to have in the course of this treatment, and then go from there. Now my very close circle of friends began to suspect things, because I was having a hard time walking. I had a fair amount of spinal damage. It’s a bone marrow cancer, and hip damage. And I would show up rarely for a social occasion. And finally around Christmastime, one of them came to me and said what’s going on, and I said to her, I’m not Nora. Nora Ephron was our dear friend who kept it all from us for a long time and then died of an acute case of leukemia. And I said that’s all I’m prepared to say now. And that held them off for a while. Meredith just kept saying it’s his back, because I was on a cane, and I was having, obviously having trouble with mobility. Most of all, I just wanted to concentrate on my family, and I’m getting well, and not have all the intrusions that I knew would come with publicity.
HH: Now there’s a book within the book in A Lucky Life Interrupted. It’s a book about Alzheimer’s, and it’s a book about your brother, Bill, and it’s amazingly tender and poignant. And I didn’t expect that, because we hadn’t touched on that in the green room. And the trouble of, I don’t have this with my brothers. They don’t have a superstar brother, but neither of them are sick, and they’ve had great lives. But this is very poignant, Tom Brokaw. How hard was it to write about your brother, Bill, who didn’t have luck in life, and who ended up dying in the middle of your fight that was successful?
TB: It was not easy, but I felt that at least that I owed him. He was really a wonderful, quirky personality. He had a lot of talent, but things didn’t work out for him in life, in his personal life and his professional life in the same way they worked out for me. And my daughter, Jennifer Bombs Away Brokaw was managing both cases, mine and his. And so in the middle of what I was going through, I would fly to Denver to spend time with him to make sure that everything was on course so that he was getting the best care possible. And then I saw what so many families go through, the rapid deterioration of this otherwise keen-witted guy. Once he deteriorated into acute Alzheimer’s, it was just a sad, sad thing to watch. And we’d rendezvous the family, my youngest brother would fly in from California, and my granddaughters and daughters would go through there as well to try to give him as much joy as we possibly could in the final days of his life. And then as so often happens, he just gave in to Alzheimer’s. We all gathered, then, for the farewell to him in the mountains of Colorado that he so dearly loved. And it gave me my own perspective on life as well. I was lucky not to have that. The day that I got word that he was dying, I looked into an empty crib that had been occupied just moments before by the newest addition to our grandchildren population, Archer, the first boy in the family. And it helped me get through the moment, because I thought this is what families do. They constantly renew themselves.
HH: I was impressed with the writing, and I broke into tears. Bill was just two years younger than me, but his life was light years different – broken marriages, failed businesses, a stubborn resistance to anyone who volunteered to help, yet he was natively smart, a voracious reader, a public policy wonk. And then you asked the plaintiff question which I think anybody ought to ask themselves listening. How do you plan ten years or even five years earlier for one six month period in which you develop cancer and your brother is institutionalized with Alzheimer’s? That’s the lucky interruption in the lucky life, Tom Brokaw. And the answer is you can’t, but you can cope.
TB: You can’t, and I hope the book will help people think about preparing. There are contingencies that you can get involved in. Jennifer feels very strongly about families having conferences about if something happens, who becomes the caregiver, how do you work out shifts if something happens. We’re all growing older, Hugh, and with aging comes the consequences of evolution. Cancer or Alzheimer’s or the other diseases are affected with aging. And then at that time when you have to make a decision about when to let go, and she just thinks it’s practical for every family to sit down now when they can still do it and come to conclusions about what the principal wants, what the role of the family should be, and we kind of talked about that. So when it happened to us, we were all up to speed on what was expected of us. And I think it made it easier for us to get through it.
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HH: I play Fats Domino. Whenever I read Tom Brokaw or someone’s memoir, I make a note of the music they mention. You only mentioned Fats Domino, Chet Baker and the Mamas and the Papas, so I only have three bumps from your book. But you mentioned those in contrast to Garrick Utley’s tastes. I thought that was very amusing.
TB: Well, I grew up, you know, as a child of the 50s, and I was an early disc jockey. But I also was very drawn to cool jazz during that time. So I grew up with the whole idea of Gerry Mulligan and Stan Kenton and all the great jazz artists of that time. But then you know, I was a disc jockey during the early introduction of rock ‘n roll – Fats Domino and Elvis, of course, and Jerry Lee Lewis. And then as the Beatles came along, I was a little bit older at that point, and it was a bit of an adjustment for me. But then I came quickly to appreciate all of their music. Mama Cass of the Mamas and the Papas, was a very astute political analyst. She used to come up to the newsroom and sit in my office and talk to me about what was going on. So it was pretty irresistible to be around her as well. You know, when you lived in California in the 1960s and the early 1970s, you were in the crossroads of this cultural upheaval that was at once very exciting and a little bewildering as well.
HH: Well, the book is charming, because it’s not only a guide, but the guide part of cancer is laced through with wonderful stories about Nelson Mandela or Louis Zamperini, or your favorite interviews – Elmore Leonard, Maggie Thatcher. Those don’t surprise me. I’ve interviews Elmore Leonard. I was pretty surprised to see Bill Scranton on that list, though, Tom Brokaw.
TB: Well, Elmore Leonard, I always thought that Elmore Leonard wrote dialogue better than any other American popular author. I just loved the way that he wrote, I remember just one passage one time in which he turned away from some sleazebag in Florida, and he said to himself, or the character did, he’s going to say, “Ciao, baby,” and the guy of course said, “Ciao, baby.” And it was that kind of Leonard moment. And then it turns out I had this stage manager who worked for me, fought in the Korean War, won the Silver Medal, and Jimmy was a big Irishman from Detroit, and he said I’ve got a pal coming in from my neighborhood today. And as it turned out, it was Elmore Leonard, who sat in our studio and just watched me do the news. And so we had a little bit of a connection after that. I’m always in awe of the writers who have that great dialogue right at their tips, the very American way of how we do things. And I certainly thought that he was in the front ranks of that.
HH: I know listening right now, because he listens every day, is David Mamet. And that is what his gift is as well, and I can’t replicate it. Let’s go back to the story of your cancer. And by the way, when you get the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the White House tells you, you can bring five, and you say no, we’ll be bringing ten, that moment is worth the book alone, for anyone who ever has to be honored by anyone. You get to assert what you want. But here you are thrust into a world of complexity. You do have a daughter who’s an ER physician, and you assemble a team. And when I first heard about the book in the green room at Meet the Press, you told me I had a quarterback, I had an offensive coordinator, and I had an ombudsman. And I’ve told everyone that story, because it talks to the breadth and depth of the team you’ve got assemble around. And would you explain those different roles for people?
TB: Well, yes, I was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic, and then I was handed off to Sloan Kettering. And I had this terrific, young oncologist, a woman, but I was not happy with the other parts of Sloan Kettering in terms of their absence of coordination in the same way that the Mayo Clinic does it. The Mayo Clinic is, everybody is on the screen at the same time or in the room with you. At the same time, I’d heard about a guru at Dana-Farber, a wonderful man by the name of Ken Anderson, who is the expert in multiple myeloma. So I was happy with my oncologist. I also thought I needed the offensive coordinator and coach. And I called Ken, and I outlined it just like that. It turns out he’s a big Patriots fan. And he said I’d be privileged to do it. And Heather, who is my oncologist at Sloan, knew all about him and said I can work with him easily. I made her the quarterback. Jennifer Brokaw became my ombudsman off to the side – a physician who can take notes, who can bring other information to you, who can interpret what they’re telling you. And I’ve now been telling lots of cancer patients that I know get yourself an ombudsman. Get somebody who can translate what they’re saying, because too many clinicians will come in and they’ll give you a very complicated analysis of what they’re about to do, and then leave you in the room, and they’ll go off to do that. And you’re bewildered by what they’ve just said. And what has been very gratifying is that now in a lot of hospitals, and a lot of caregivers are buying my book and distributing it to the physicians and to the senior residents in the wards saying we need to work harder on communication. Look at what Tom has to say about it. So that’s been…
HH: You said, one of the lines, only 14% of patients use the plethora of material measuring effectiveness of care, physician expertise and hospital standards. That was a wakeup call for me. You know, I’m pretty thorough when I have to go and find expertise about finding it. I am surprised that most Americans are not. You even reached out to Dr. Groopman, or rather Dr. Groopman was thrust upon you, author of Your Medical Mind.
TB: Well, that was a great, great benefit that came from Maureen Dowd, who as I say in the book, all but threw me into the trunk of her car and drove me to Harvard and said you’ve got to talk to him, and you’ve got to deal with him. And when I talked to him, I knew who he was, obviously. I’ve read his wonderful articles for a long time. I was very familiar with his books. He’s very reassuring about the team that I’d assembled, and then I was able to use stuff from his book to help people decide how to settle on a physician. You know, the reference that I make in the book is that we all enter doctor’s offices, or for the most part, as if they’re Mayan temples, and we don’t speak that language. And then I have so many people say to me I just love my doctor. Well, what do you like about him? Well, he’s got a great personality. But what about his background? What about his record? What about how well he is with other patients? What have been their successes? You have to put as much effort into selecting a physician, as I say, as you do into buying a flat-screen television set or a pair of running shoes, for that matter.
HH: Now you are, at this time, you’re not cured, but you’re stable and you’re succeeding, but you’ve lost a lot of fellow MM battlers along the way, one of whom died the same month that Dr. Landau declared your 16 months of treatment had worked. Your conclusion, my cancer is manageable, but remains incurable. Would you explain that to the audience, that that’s a good thing?
TB: It is a good thing. When I was first diagnosed, they said statistically, the lifespan is five years. Maybe it’s going to creep up a little more, but we think that we’ve caught this in time, and the extraordinary advancement that they’re making in drug treatment of this particular cancer is unparalleled, in many ways, and you’ll be the beneficiary of that. And I have been. I didn’t have to have a stem cell transplant, for example. I’ve responded so well to the drugs, it put my cancer into remission. Now that has to be monitored, carefully, because it can come back. So every month, I do that kind of a checkup. And about once every three weeks or so, I go in for Zometa, which strengthens my bones, and I go in for other fluids that’ll help me ward off infections. And then the blood test comes every month as well. I am, they’re very confident that I’m doing well on that part. The issue that remains for me is that a number of my bones, especially in my spinal area, were weakened by the fractures, and I am trying very hard to get them back up to speed. I was a very active outdoorsman before, and I have no illusions about getting back to where I was when I was 65, but I want to be very comfortable in riding my bike and walking through the fields when I am brood hunting, or stepping into a river when I am fly fishing, or for that matter, even getting on a long airplane ride. So that’s what I’m working on.
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HH: And in another story within the story, Tom Brokaw, I say I am married to the sweetest, most normal person in the world, the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt, my Betsy, but only for 33 years. Meredith Brokaw is a saint. And she also sounds like a lot of fun. Christmas is all about the Baby Jesus, and Meredith is my kind of lady. But I hope she liked this book at the end, because you put a lot of her in here. And so she’d better like it.
TB: Well, you know, she’s of Scotch ancestry, so she kind of dismisses that. I paid tribute to her recently. I got a mentoring award from the Livingston Group that honors young journalists, and I said at the end, I talked about all the professional mentors I had, but I said my real mentor in life has been Meredith, and I kind of got very emotional about it. And I sat down, and she just looked over at me and said what am I going to do with you?
HH: That’s very funny.
TB: She is so accomplished in many ways. She didn’t start horseback riding until she was 50. She is now an absolutely expert horsewoman. She’s a great, she’s got bridge master points. In the old days when we would go backpacking or whatever, she was right there with me 50 miles into the deepest wilderness in America. She’s going back to Montana in a few days with her cowgirl friends, and at age 75, Meredith is leading them on a pack trip up into the mountains on their horses, and they’ll spend two or three days in a particularly beautiful area. So whatever she sets out to do, she does extremely well. And of all the decisions I’ve made in life, I’ve always said the best one was when she said I think we should get married. I said yes, so that’s how it worked out.
HH: Recounted in the book. Now give straight advice to spouses of cancer patients and friends of cancer patients. When your illness was announced, you heard from Cardinal Dolan and Charles Barkley and Jon Stewart and Sam Donaldson, and there are very many funny stories here and touching stories. But what’s your advice to friends and spouses and family members when a diagnosis comes in? How ought they to act? What should they talk about? What shouldn’t they talk about?
TB: Well, I’m not sure there’s anything they should not talk about. I think that candor is the greatest strength for families, to have a family conference and say okay, this is what we’re in for. I don’t know how it’s going to end up, because you know, if you get the flu or a broken bone, you kind of know when that’s going to end. With cancer, you don’t know when it’s going to end. I was assured that they thought they could treat this, but there were people dying of multiple myeloma as I was being treated. So everybody kind of assumes a role or gets assigned a role. My middle daughter has these two wonderful West Side New York kids who we just adore that we call the hooligans. They’ve got a lot of opinions, and they’re very noisy when they enter a house, and I said to them at one point trying to find a way to get them to dampen down the volume, I said do you know the meaning of decibels? And I talked about decibels. And the next time they came in, they were very solemn, and they said to me, Tom, we’re going to keep the decibels down today. So it becomes a whole family-like experience, and everyone has to understand that going in. And they have to understand that the otherwise cheerful, you know, can-do dad or granddad may not be able to be the same person that he’s been up to a point. And that’s a tricky part, but you have to get that out on the table.
HH: I also, I think many families will appreciate your candor about just bodily functions. It’s so funny at times. In your touching story about Kevin Pearce and Dick Ebersol doing the special, and Bob Costas saying he was just speechless, why it’s so powerful. Why is that so powerful? Why did you include that story?
TB: Because it was, that story was about how families respond.
TB: And I remember how moved I was when I met the Pearce family, and we’ve stayed in touch, by the way. And Kevin and his mother wrote to me just recently, because they’d read the book. But they were a big inspiration to me. Kevin was a snowboarder who was headed for the Olympics, had a traumatic head injury. The whole family rallied about him down in Denver at a big rehabilitation center. He got very angry with them, because it was not easy to go through what he was going through. And when he got to a point when they knew he was going to live, they called and said we’re ready to talk. We put that on in prime time in the Olympics, and took away from the time that we might have spent with downhill skiing, or the luge, or whatever, because I said to Dick, and he got it immediately, there are families watching the Olympics all across America tonight. This is a family event, and this is a family that personifies courage and athleticism, and how you go on from there. And it had a huge impact on our audience. We heard from a lot of people about it for many days afterwards. So you know, in a way I didn’t anticipate, I drew on them as well when I had my own diagnosis. I thought about the Pearces and how they handled it, and I thought that could be helpful to our family.
HH: And I think this book is going to be very helpful to many families listening across America who are dealing with this illness.
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HH: One of my favorite lines in this book, Tom Brokaw, is on Page 212. At least that’s the page on the Apple Store version of it. I read it online. “Damn this cancer. How dare it interfere with such a glorious time.” You’re at Cooperstown. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas of the White Sox, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, my God, what a great group of inductees to be there with. And yet, the cancer wears you out, so you go take a nap.
TB: Yeah, I couldn’t stay for the whole ceremony. I must say I want to pay tribute to Fred Wilpon and his wife, Judith, who had flown me up there for it, because I had written the forward of the 75th anniversary book of the Hall of Fame. And setting my forward aside, by the way, it’s an extraordinary look at baseball over the last 75 years. What they do is divide it up by position, and every great position player then talks about what it’s like to be shortstop. I think it’s Ripkin who does the shortstop position, Joe Morgan, 2nd base. Anyhow, there I was. I had dinner on Saturday night with my hero, Sandy Koufax and a whole other group of people stopping by. By mid-afternoon the next day, out in the sun, I just couldn’t stay for the whole ceremony. I had to excuse myself, and Fred got me back to a kind of resting place. And I hated cancer that day more than any other time, I think, during the whole ordeal, because…
HH: But it’s a great message. You just deal with the limitations it gives you, and you take what it gives you, and you enjoy it. And I am very envious of your opportunity to be with Gaylord Perry and Reggie Jackson and Bob Gibson. You told those stories. I told someone after the last time we were on Meet the Press together, it’s not a news show. It’s a baseball discussion interrupted by a news show. It’s just…
TB: Right, exactly.
HH: I want to talk a little bit about the news business and how it responded to your illness. People don’t believe there’s a lot of loyalty in the business, but boy, did you have it from NBC throughout this whole thing.
TB: Well, the people at the time at NBC knew what was going on, but no one in the ranks knew. I was working on the JFK documentary simultaneously, and I just used the bad back as my cover story. And then they would come out to my house so we could work on the computer there, and I would occasionally go into the office. And then I really pulled myself together for the on-camera stuff that we had to shoot as we were introducing it. It was a two hour special. So I was not happy. I saw the first takes, and they were prepared to put them on the air, and I thought no, you just can’t do that. I don’t look well, and I look distracted. So I kind of worked for the next 48 hours and kind of pulling myself together, and went back and reshot that, and the broadcast was a big success. But I still had not told everybody there. Once the word got out, it was very gratifying to have folks come by and say you going to be okay, is everything fine, and they would always say the same thing. My God, you look great. And I finally began to say if I look great with cancer, how’d I look before I had cancer? I mean, what’s the deal here? And I’ve been there for 50 years, so I’ve grown up with generations of NBC people. And we really have been through some hard times and great times. And I must say, it does become my family. I really felt that they were in on it with me. And it was very touching about how concerned and aware they were. You know, at the same time, I’m a tough teaser, so they would tease me a little bit as well. But nonetheless, I felt that I was at home, whether I was at my real home or at my home at the office.
HH: Now I also have to ask you, given your love of the outdoors and your Montana…I fished the Madison this summer. We use fishing loosely. And I asked Dick Cheney this question once. I want to ask you. If you had to give up either fly fishing or pheasant hunting, which would go?
TB: God, that’s a hard call.
HH: That’s what he said.
TB: Well, they’re both, you know, they both have their own dynamics. I’m going out to Montana in ten days, and the fall fishing is phenomenal, because the big browns are moving up out of the Yellowstone and the Boulder River, and then we’ll be able to fish for those. At the same time, then, in the afternoon, I’ll be out shooting Hungarian partridge and pheasants. So I just couldn’t give up one for the other. And frankly, for me, what is the great, great dividend as well is that I have a ten year old gold Labrador who is one of the world’s great dogs, a phenomenal bird dog, but at the same time, my fishing companion. And when things don’t work out, you know, I make a bad cast or things go slow, I can turn to Red and say what the heck is going on here, buddy, and he kind of looks at me with this empathetic expression, and I can keep on going. So I don’t need human companionship on the river or in the field. I’ve got Red at my side.
HH: Well, the Vice President said, though it was a tough call, fly fishing would go first. He had to keep his pheasant hunting. And so I don’t know, maybe you’ll think about it. But you led me to the transition. You just brought up sympathy. There’s a difference between empathy for cancer patients and sympathy for cancer patients. You talk about it in your book. I think it’s very important for people to understand that difference.
TB: When you don’t have cancer in your family, but a friend has cancer, somebody that you know or even close to, you have sympathy. But you don’t, you know, I think most of us say at that moment, thank God it’s not me. They have no idea what you’re going through as a patient, or what’s happening in your family. You cannot have empathy until you have it yourself, or it enters your family. Then, it’s an entirely different dimension. And two other expressions that I use is that I would sit in my living room where I have a wonderfully comfortable living room cum library and pull off a book off the shelf and read it in the old days, and I would be very happy staring at the fire. Now when I would go in there, there would be this scrim or screen that would come down in front of me, and it would be cancer. I would see everything through the difficulty of having cancer. I’d look in the mirror in the morning to shave, and I’d say you’ve got cancer, get used to it. And sometimes, I would kind of bark that out. So it just is unending. It’s 24/7. And it’s so mysterious about why did it happen. How did it happen? How are we going to beat this? I’ve never talked to a cancer patient yet who is comfortable with the idea of having cancer, because it’s your body’s war on itself.
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HH: At the end of it, you dedicate it to your five grandchildren, Tom Brokaw. “Five reasons to live long and drink deeply from their love.” And you write, “It is time to quietly savor the advantage of a lucky life, and use them to fill every waking moment with emotional and intellectual pursuits worthy of the precious time we have. Life, what’s left, bring it on.” – Tom Brokaw, 2640, which people have to read to figure out. That’s a little bit of defiance there. And I wonder what your attitude it toward the disease that you want to transmit to people who may this very afternoon be driving back across the United States having gotten a diagnosis for themselves or a family member that is leaving them mystified and befuddled?
TB: You know, Hugh, we really are on the cusp of the golden age of treating cancer, and it’s all about monoclonal gene therapy. What they’re doing is they’re using our own genes, reengineering them to attack cancer. The body becomes the best defense against this vicious enemy that we have within us. And that’s going on at every major cancer center that I know. I’m not prepared, yet, to say that we’re there, but the progress that has been made is phenomenal. One small, very dramatic and not altogether representative example, there was a woman in Minnesota who had multiple myeloma, and here remission had failed three times. She was down for the count. And at the Mayo Clinic, they said we have one last desperate act we’d like to try. She said I have no choice, what is it, and they said we’d like to give you a megadose of Measles vaccine. Measles vaccine comes from the body. And they gave her the megadose, 10,000 times a normal dose. She went into tremors, she had hallucinations, she had a terrible fever. 24 hours later, she was cured of multiple myeloma, and it’s been gone for three years. Now that is an exceptional story, but there are stories that are connected to that kind of treatment that are beginning to happen. And as they work feverishly to develop all of these new gene therapies, I think that we’re looking at a time when we’re going to have not the elimination of cancer, but a great diminution of it, depending on what kind of cancer there is. So that’s something I…
HH: Well, that’s why it’s genuinely rightly named A Memoir Of Hope. I also hope every doctor out there reads your commencement address at Mayo Medical on Page 101 about de-mystification, that, too, a very useful part of the book. Tom Brokaw, thank you for joining me, being generous with your time. Congratulations, may you have six more bestsellers ahead of you.
TB: Thank you, Hugh, and I look forward to seeing you again on Meet the Press.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.