A number of media outlets are reporting that possible presidential candidate Fred Thompson has a treatable form of lymphoma. you can read more at Hot Air, Fox News, USA Today and Newsmax. Thompson's statement:
"I have had no illness from it, or even any symptoms. My life expectancy should not be affected. I am in remission, and it is very treatable with drugs if treatment is needed in the future - and with no debilitating side effects."
Tennessee political observer A.C. Kleinheider says this raises the odds that Thompson won't run for president. He's wrong, and I'll explain why.
The first Fox News report linked above says Thompson was diagnosed with indolent lymphoma about two-and-a-half years ago after a routine physical.
In other words, Thompson knew he had indolent lymphoma when he went on Fox News Sunday more than a month ago and said he was considering running for president. Today's announcement is "new" news to the American public, but it's old news to Fred. If having indolent lymphoma was going to stop Fred Thompson from running for president, he would not have had announced his presidential interest on Fox New Sunday.
What is indolent lymphoma? The website Lymphomation.org says indolent lymphoma is a slow-growing non-Hodgkins lymphoma "that is not causing symptoms or does not present an immediate medical danger."
Indolent lymphomas can remain stable for long periods of time, and sometimes regress spontaneously. There have been case reports of indolent lymphomas remaining stable for as long as twenty years, but it should be noted that most patients will receive first treatment within one to two years after diagnosis.
MedTerms.com says this:
Indolent lymphoma: A lymphoma that tends to grow and spread slowly, in contrast to an aggressive lymphoma which tends to grow and spread quickly. Indolent lymphomas include chronic lymphocytic lymphoma and follicular small cleaved cell lymphoma. Also called low-grade lymphoma.
Wikipedia's Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma page says:
Indolent lymphomas, also referred to as low-grade lymphomas, tend to grow quite slowly and cause fewer symptoms. One of the paradoxes of Non Hodgkin's lymphoma is that the indolent lymphomas generally cannot be cured by chemotherapy, while in a significant number of cases aggressive lymphomas can be.
... For indolent lymphomas, the doctor may decide to wait until the disease causes symptoms before starting treatment. Often, this approach is called "watchful waiting."
That's the state that it appears Thompson's illness is in.
What does this mean for his presidential campaign? Does it means he's not going to run? Perhaps. But it could be that Thompson released this information now as part of preparing to run - so that the news media and public could become educated about indolent lymphoma and make this an old-news story. For indolent lymphomas, the doctor may decide to wait until the disease causes symptoms before starting treatment. Often, this approach is called "watchful waiting."
The reality is, Thompson has a treatable illness, not a medical death sentence. Millions of Americans have survived cancer - millions more live long, productive and fulfilling lives with chronic incurable but treatable diseases like, say, diabetes.
Now, consider how Thompson announced the news: Via a statement read over the ABC Radio network. ABCNews.com has Thompson's complete statement:
"We have all seen the courageous battle that Elizabeth and John Edwards are fighting, and there are so many others. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of good stories because of the medical advances that have been made.
"I have friends in politics, some in Congress, some running for President, and others who have successfully dealt with cancer. It is certainly no respecter of persons and totally non-partisan. That point was driven home to me about 2 1/2 years ago when, shortly after a routine physical, I was diagnosed with what the doctors call an indolent lymphoma. Of the 30-plus kinds of lymphoma this is a "good" kind, if there is such a thing.
"I have had no illness from it, or even any symptoms. My life expectancy should not be affected. I am in remission, and it is very treatable with drugs if treatment is needed in the future—and with no debilitating side effects.
"I am one of the lucky ones. There are many lucky ones today. And for all of our diversity, we share one thing in common - a deep appreciation for the fact that we live in the United States of America and have the best medicine and the best doctors the world has even known."
To underscore Thompson's praise of American medicine, here's a recent news release from Cell Therapeutics, Inc., which is asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve and help design a phase III trial of the drug pixantrone for patients with indolent non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or NHL. Cell Therapeutics says pixantrone showed promising remission rates and survival data in a mid-stage clinical trial for the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
And here's a story out of Canada about a woman living with indolent lymphoma:
Being diagnosed with indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma isn‘t slowing down Joanne Clarke. Instead, she is picking up the pace. Clarke, who is in her late 50s, is training for the Vancouver Half-Marathon on May 6.
Running for president is like a marathon. And the fact that Thompson released the info via, in effect, a radio commentary rather than a dry press release, indicates to me he is leaning toward running. Think about it: Thompson has reached millions of people with his guest commentaries on the Paul Harvey show on the ABC radio network, and deliving this news via the same network is a perfect way to communicate to potential voters that his cancer isn't some scary illness that's going to kill him, but, rather, a treatable illness (like millions of listeners have) that American medicine knows how to handle.
Had he issued a dry press release today, I'd have bet he would soon announce he wasn't running. But this was an optimistic, forward-looking announcement, and politically inclusive, mentioning Democratic candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth by name and alluding to John McCain's past battle with skin cancer and and Rudy Giuliani's past prostate cancer.
A presidential candidate with cancer is no big deal, Thompson implied, especially when you have a treatable cancer like he does, and you have American medicine and an optimistic spirit.
Very Reaganesque, actually.
Update: Former Sen. Bill Frist, a medical doctor, comments on Thompson's illness and prospective candidacy.