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John Kerry Announces Good Prognosis on Cancer

Aired February 11, 2003 - 17:23   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Elizabeth, hold on one second. I see the senator has now walked into the room. He's about to speak.
Let's listen in.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: ... doing some of the pre-op ordeals. They told me they're going to take my aloof gland out tomorrow. So I'm feeling better.

It may sound strange to some of you, but I really feel very lucky as I stand here. And the reason I feel lucky is that I'm going to be cured. I have early detection. And the earliest stage that is really almost possible to be detected.

I had a very low PSA. And it's not the count or the PSA, it's numbers, that's so critical, it's the rate of increase or the difference between your last one. And thank heavens, both my wife and Dr. Jerry Doyle in Boston at Mass. General noticed that increase and suggested that I take immediate steps in order to have it further investigated.

I did that and as a consequence of that, tomorrow morning I'm going to have surgery from a superb pioneering surgeon, Dr. Patrick Walsh, who has broken through with respect to what they call nerve sparing surgery and surgery which reduces bleeding and maximizes the long-term curable possibilities.

So I stand before you really blessed in that sense. And I think it's a great lesson for men globally but obviously all across our country.

I talked to Rudy Giuliani today. I talked to Mike Milken. I've talked to others who have faced this choice. And different men make different choices about how to deal with it.

I'm convinced that the choice I've made is the right choice for me based on my age, based on the early detection. And based on the probabilities, the outcome, the certainty, if you will, of cure.

And I hope all men will recognize the critical, the importance of being able to have that screening, certainly at age 50 and over, being able to follow up whenever there is that differential that is noticed. And take steps, as I've been able to, very rapidly to try to deal with it.

So I am lucky, because on Saturday I hope to be back in Washington and by next week I'll be having meetings and certainly be very busy on the telephone. And within a matter of days after that, I think you'll all be pestered by me in ways that you'll wish -- well, maybe not.

But I intend to be back and at it pretty soon.


QUESTION: Senator Kerry, why didn't you answer truthfully ten days ago when you were asked directly if you were sick, given that you were diagnosed with prostate cancer on December 23 and it's now mid- February?

KERRY: Very simple, Glen. Very simple reason.

Because my doctor was away and I thought it was very important for him to be able to be here and be able to explain what was happening, because I hadn't finally resolved completely what the course of action would be.

And finally, because members of my family, most importantly, had not yet been told. This had developed very rapidly in the course of February. I believed that members of my family deserve to learn not reading the newspapers but deserve to learn from me.

And that's why I made that decision. I could parse the word sick, I'm not going to. But I thought my family came first.

And I've tried to balance it. And I'm here today. I'm here today voluntarily, as I always knew I would be once I knew what my course of treatment would be and once I had notified those people that are dearest and closest to me, as I did really only in the last ten days or so.

QUESTION: You're running for an office where trustworthiness and truthfulness is perhaps one of the key ingredients or one of the qualities for the people seeking that job.

Do you think people should draw any broader conclusion about your truthfulness based on the answer...

KERRY: No, I think every American would understand, Glen, that if a reporter sticks his head into your car door as you're leaving to drive away and asks you if you're sick, that you don't owe them necessarily an answer at that moment about what's happening.

My family, literally, my sisters didn't even know. I hadn't talked to members of my family.

I hadn't even had a chance to talk to Dr. Walsh about some final aspects of it. We talked while he was in Europe. We talked also while he was on vacation out in Wyoming.

And so we were still having discussions, and I wanted to be able to announce this to America in a way that I am doing it today, where I know exactly what I'm doing, where I have the answers, where I have the medical answers, where my family is fully notified and I am able to do it on my terms.

And sometimes, Glen, that's more important than the headline of a newspaper.

QUESTION: Senator Kerry, are you concerned this will have any affect on your viability as a candidate? And also when you talked about Mayor Giuliani, did you talk to him at all about that issue? Because of course after his -- he decided not to run for the senate.

KERRY: Rudy made a very different choice with respect to the course of treatment. I am electing to do surgery. Rudy Giuliani did not do surgery.

And I don't know how much has been written about what he did do, so I don't want to violate any of his privacy. But he made a different choice in terms of course of treatment. And the course of treatment that he took takes you to a different place in terms of time, energy, commitment and so forth.

The treatment I'm taking is the treatment that every doctor I talked to both at Mass General, at Johns Hopkins and in the literature that I read, indicated to me was the best treatment for my health. It also coincidentally permits me to be able to continue doing what I'm doing as others who have chosen that course will tell you.

But I made the choice based on what I thought was best, obviously, to be cured. And when I looked at the rates and I looked at the -- you know, my dad died of prostate cancer. He died when he was 85. He was probably diagnosed some time in his early 70s. But the probability is he had it in the 60s and didn't know it.

I don't want to shock anybody here, but for those men here, the probability is that some of you have it today and don't know it. So my option was to choose to be cured, to choose to know that I can be cancer free, and I look at the statistics that show me that in 10 years, 97 percent of those who do what I'm doing tomorrow are determined to be -- based on where I am in the scale -- are determined to be cancer free. And only 2.5 percent ever get it after that.

QUESTION: Senator, will it affect your viability as a presidential candidate? Do you feel like in any way you may be judged as someone who is not in the fittest of health given your recent history of candidates and even the vice president?

KERRY: I really don't think that's possible, if you talk to any medical people in the country. They're going to tell you that I'm 100 percent capable, that I'm going to live, you know, based on whatever the outcome of the operation is, that I'm going to be, you know, living to probably well into the 80s or whatever. I mean, I can't even predict. I know I'm going to be cancer free. And I believe that. And Dr. Walsh has assured me that is the greatest outcome of this particular operation and that's what I'm looking for.

And I think if you talk to people who have been through it, that's what you'll find. So I don't think it's going to have any impact at all. I'm going to be out there. In two weeks, I'm scheduled to be doing some things, I think, on the West Coast. I intend to be there. And I intend to be riding in the Best Buddies Ride as I have last year and in the Pan-Mass Challenge and continue to lead the active, physical life that I've led all my life. And that's one of the reasons why I'm doing the operation that I'm doing tomorrow because quality of life is a critical factor and choice.

QUESTION: Senator, are there any signs that the cancer has spread and what tests have you taken to assure you that it has not spread?

KERRY: We specifically -- I wanted -- let me tell you sort of what led up to this because I want to -- just partly in answer to Glen's (ph) question earlier. I knew that running for president of the United States, I have a special level of accountability to the American people for my health. I knew that. And that's why I undertook extensive series of annual physical and went further than I might have normally. I had a colonoscopy in November at Georgetown University. It came up completely clean, no contraindication at all.

I also, you know, had all the full blood workups. But as a result of this particular diagnosis, in early January, at Mass General, I had a full body bone scan and CAT scan and the experts there as well as the experts at John Hopkins have both viewed it. And I had no other medical indications, no other anomalies whatsoever other than the signs of a remnant from a broken rib and the signs from a broken clavicle from some years ago.

So the CAT scan is clean. There was absolutely no sign of any (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I believe that as of the end of this week I can be able and obviously, it's up to the doctor. And I will make the full doctor's report available to all of you.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about the PSA numbers. You said they were low. Can you be specific about what the number was and also the rate of increase?

KERRY: Absolutely. My original -- two years ago, I had a PSA that was 2.0. The PSA then went up to 2.7. And when it came in at 3.2 something here in Washington that's when I became concerned. And based on the recommendation of people here, they said that sometimes there's a difference in lab reports.

So I went back to the lab that had done my previous ones in order to correlate with that lab and that came back at 3.4. The day that that came back at 3.4, Dr. Jerry Doyle at Mass General scheduled immediately for me to go up and have the further testing in order to make the diagnosis.

QUESTION: Senator, have you been feeling rundown or ill these past months? And how do you feel today?

KERRY: I feel terrific. I feel absolutely terrific. You know I regularly bicycle. As my staff knows, I'm always insisting on time for exercise. You know, I've been running around a lot. And I lost a couple pounds in the process, but those are the perils of campaigning. But I have not felt, you know, particularly rundown. And I'm in good shape, and I expect to be doing a great resumption of the physical activities that have been part of my life all my life in a short span of time.

QUESTION: And Mayor Giuliani suggested that you get the full body scan?

KERRY: That was the suggestion of the doctors at Mass General, Dr. Alshor (ph), Dalthauser (ph) and Jerry Doyle. It was sort of a unanimous sort of automatic after you discover that you have a positive biopsy. At that point, you want to make sure that it hasn't gone into the bone or into other parts of the body. So you immediately make that next precautionary step. It's really quite precautionary because as Dr. Walsh told me, at my level of early detection and at the standard that he had determined it was at, that probabilities of that were extraordinarily low. And all of my doctors suggested to me ahead of time, it was precautionary, they -- none of them believed that it would show up positive. And indeed it did not.

QUESTION: Thanks, everybody.

KERRY: Yes. Beg your pardon?

QUESTION: How much has your weight fluctuated?

KERRY: Two pounds. I've weighed 180 to 185 for about 20 years. I weigh 178 today so it's a two-pound fluctuation.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anticipate in terms of follow-up treatment?

KERRY: None, none. I'm going to be back exercising and campaigning. I think the best treatment is going to be getting back on the trail and being out there again.

QUESTION: Senator, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in any way been affected by your candidacy from the perspective that Mayor Giuliani went through the radiation treatment, which really knocked him out for a period afterwards? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) effectively to...

KERRY: No, I already said that, Glen (ph). I answered that...

QUESTION: There's a difference...

KERRY: No, I answered that as clearly as I can. Every doctor I talked to -- and I invite you -- they are prepared to talk to you. Dr. Jerry Doyle at Mass General, Dr. Alex Althauser (ph) at Mass General, Dr. Patrick Walsh, all of them will tell you and others will tell you that for my age, for my level of detection, for my current, you know, sort of analysis of what the slides look like, this is the best course of action in their judgment, particularly given the finesse with which Dr. Walsh is known to operate with respect to the nerve sparing surgery.

And the capacity -- I mean there -- you know, there was a time -- let me tell you what used to happen. A lot of men shied away from having surgery because historically, the surgery was such that you were almost guaranteed either impotence or incontinence or both. And people chose other courses of action. Indeed people bled to death because of the amount of bleeding that took place in that particular part of the body.

Happily, the discovery by Dr. Walsh about how to reduce that bleeding and where the nerves actually ran so that it permitted him to be able to separate the nerves and take the prostate out separately has extraordinarily enhanced the recovery rate and the capacity of people to live full and normal lives. So when I measured that and those statistics against the outcome of radiation and when I also measured it against my father's own outcome and saw what he went through, I made a judgment that it is better to get this thing out of me, to be free, to get the cancer out and I believe we're going to do that tomorrow morning. So that's my judgment.

I believe it will empower me to go on and harass all of you for some years to come. And in my judgment, it is the best way to proceed. Now, at different stages other people choose different things. You have to talk to other men. You have to talk to other people who recommend other courses for other people. Some do more -- some are way more advanced than I am and the surgery is not going to help you. You've got to do the radiation and you've got to do the -- or both. And so there are different choices.

One more last one and then I'll tell you what...


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