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.