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, he said.
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.