WASHINGTON--In 1990, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf commanded the
imagination of the American people during his service as Commander
of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. At the First National
Congress on Cancer Survivorship, he stormed the stage of the Washington
Court Hotel to describe his role as a prostate cancer survivor
and patient advocate. The message was simple and personal. "I
am here," the general said, "because I won a battle."
In the summer of 1994, General Schwarzkopf went to the doctor
because of a sore knee. He described himself as thinking, "Well,
as long as I'm here, I might as well walk by the urologist."
There was no particular reason to suspect anything was wrong.
The results of a recent PSA test had been well within normal.
But the digital examination revealed an abnormality, and a biopsy
showed prostate cancer. The general's first response was anger
and denial. "I don't get cancer!" he told himself.
The next stage was a search for some sort of control, starting
with an attempt to find information. He sought out articles, books,
news accounts--anything in print. Finding little available, he
looked for people to talk with--doctors, cancer patients, cancer
survivors. Talking brought considerable comfort and reassurance,
The day General Schwarzkopf went to the hospital for surgery,
a staff aide asked him, "What shall we tell the press?"
His instructions to the aide were very clear. "Be open. Tell
them I have prostate cancer." The response to that openness
was a flood of correspondence, telephone calls, and visits from
prostate cancer patients and survivors. Senator Bob Dole paid
a visit to him in the hospital and joked, "Now you can replace
me as the prostate cancer poster boy." "Why not?"
the general replied.
General Schwarzkopf's recovery was swift. Within a few weeks he
was walking 5 miles a day, soon raised to 8. The letters kept
coming, and he found himself immersed in the role of patient advocate.
The general closed with two messages: He advised all men over
40 to visit a urologist regularly and to be satisfied with nothing
less than a thorough examination. Second, he urged cancer survivors
to make themselves available to others.