Tammy Faye Messner: The CNN Interview

I caught a brief preview of the CNN Larry King Live interview with Tammy Faye Messner on Wednesday night, prior to the airing of the full interview last evening.


Perhaps you were as shocked as I was at her appearance.  But that sense of disbelief passed fairly quickly for me, since as a physician I have seen many cancer patients in similar circumstances during the course of my professional career.


Her appearance did give me a moment’s pause as I asked myself what “normal people” were thinking, seeing her on television with the mild wheezing and the obvious emaciation.  Her pride was very much a part of the picture.


I imagined that some must have felt fear: fear that they could some day look like her; fear that they have been diagnosed with cancer and this might represent the outcome; renewal of fear from the past, having dealt with a loved one, a friend, a colleague they knew who died from cancer.


But most of all I had admiration for what Ms. Messner did.


We cannot ignore the fact that CNN demonstrated a commitment to those whose lives have been touched by cancer by showing the interview in the first place.  After all, this is not the type of program that most people like to watch during prime time.


Like many celebrities, Tammy Faye has been part of our lives for many years.  She is, for all intents and purposes, a very unique individual.


Her faith, her divorce, her cancer diagnosis and her cancer progression have all been documented in the public eye. 


Now, she has put a face to our fears, and a face to our hopes.


When Ms. Messner appeared on television last night, she represented the millions of cancer patients everywhere who live with this disease, and those whose lives have been lost to cancer.


The sight may have not been pretty, but it was real and it was emotional.


We applauded earlier this year when the number of cancer deaths declined by about 3000, out of close to 560,000 lives lost to cancer.  But we should never forget that we have a long way to go to eliminate the suffering of cancer.


Tammy Faye Messner last night represented the commitment of millions of Americans and others throughout the world who devote their lives to research, to caring, to supporting and helping those who have cancer.


In a real way, she underscored why my colleagues and I come to work every day.  


I was asked by someone today whether seeing her on television last night will create fear in cancer patients.


I responded that it may, for some. 


No one wants to hear that they have cancer, yet over 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2007.  Seeing Tammy Faye Messner in her current condition will undoubtedly give many of them pause and concern for their own well-being and welfare.


But for many of these survivors, cancer becomes a fact of their daily lives—but does not dominate who they are. 


Cancer survivors have hopes and prayers that they will do well.  Unfortunately, too many do not.


The cancer patients I have cared for and those I have known are a remarkable group of people.  Some choose to share their stories, others do not.  But their internal strength is something that has always inspired me.


Tammy Faye demonstrated that incredible inner strength—and faith—last evening.


In that moment, Tammy Faye Messner was part of all of us. 


Ms. Messner, the thoughts and prayers of millions are with you today.


Filed Under: Cancer Care | Colon Cancer


J. Leonard Lichtenfeld's Biography

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP: Dr. Lichtenfeld currently serves as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society in the Society's Office of the Chief Medical Officer located at the Society's Corporate Center in Atlanta. Dr. Lichtenfeld joined the Society in 2001 as a medical editor, and in 2002 assumed responsibility for managing the Society's then newly created Cancer Control Science Department which included the prevention and early detection of cancer, emerging cancer science and trends, health equity, quality of life for cancer patients, the science of cancer communications and the role of nutrition and physical activity in cancer prevention and cancer care.  In 2014, Dr. Lichtenfeld assumed his current role in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer where he provides extensive support to a number of Society colleagues and activities. As a result of his over four decades of experience in cancer care, Dr. Lichtenfeld is frequently quoted in the print and electronic media regarding the Society's positions on a number of important issues related to cancer. He has testified regularly in legislative and regulatory hearings, and participated on numerous panels regarding cancer care, research, advocacy and related topics. He has served on a number of advisory committees and boards for organizations that collaborate with the Society to reduce the burden of cancer nationally and worldwide. He is well known for his blog (www.cancer.org/drlen) which first appeared in 2005 and which continues to address many topics related to cancer research and treatment. A board certified medical oncologist and internist who was a practicing physician for over 19 years, Dr. Lichtenfeld has long been engaged in health care policy on a local, state, and national level.  He is active in several state and national medical organizations and has a long-standing interest in professional legislative and regulatory issues related to health care including physician payment, medical care delivery systems, and health information technology. Dr. Lichtenfeld is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in Philadelphia.  His postgraduate training was at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute in Baltimore. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society.  Dr. Lichtenfeld has received several awards in recognition of his efforts on behalf of his colleagues and his professional activities.  He has been designated a Master of the American College of Physicians in acknowledgement of his contributions to internal medicine.  Dr. Lichtenfeld is married, and resides in Atlanta and Thomasville, Georgia.

2 thoughts on “Tammy Faye Messner: The CNN Interview

  1. Very very good blog, my gf mother had cancer and i know how someone suffers when they lose someone close and not only that how the person that has cancer goes through it, it makes me sad to even read about cancer, because i wouldnt even want my enemy to have cancer, a very disburting disease that not only kills a person but affects the whole family.


  2. I am a recording artist in the Miami area, and I am also a singer and songwriter. I have composed a song in memory of Tammy Faye Messner and have posted it on my website http://rjstarr.info.

    I am writing you because I am one of millions of people who have been inspired by her life and saddened by her lost battle to cancer. I am hoping that this song will somehow reach her family and that it will help them to heal. In the words of someone who recently heard my song:

    You have changed my whole perspective on Tammy Faye. As you may know, I’m very very new to the Spiritual world as you guys understand it, so all these preachers are totally unfamiliar to me… moreover, I’ve always held kind of a distrust for many of them, including Tammy. These last days I’ve been watching the Larry King interviews with her and her family and had been mellowed by the sincerity and simplicity that came through but still held my resistance and distrust. The simple fact that you would have composed such a beautiful song for her makes me question my prejudices to the core and as we speak I am revaluating my standpoint totally. For a person as tender but mature as you to express so much love and gratitude in such a beautiful melody and poetical words means that you have been deeply touched by this woman. And for that to happen she must have been so much of an extraordinary human being than I imagined. I really hope that her family and friends understand how deeply moving your song is and how much love and admiration it really conveys. You have opened my eyes and I will see her differently from now on…. I’m sure there is enough taped material around left for all those of us who missed her message in life… maybe that might be her greatest legacy in the future

    I guess I would like that realization to somehow reach others. Maybe you could help me?

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