Tom Brokaw, Patient 2640: Cancer ‘Is the Most Pernicious Enemy That Medicine Has’

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, author of A Lucky Life Interrupted, the story of his personal journey dealing with a multiple myeloma diagnosis, told Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen K. Bannon that cancer “is the most pernicious enemy that medicine has.”

In studio at Sirius XM’s broadcasting headquarters in New York City Thursday, Brokaw shared with Breitbart News Daily host Bannon his reaction the day he received the devastating news he had been diagnosed with the incurable but treatable form of cancer in 2013.

“In the book our hero is Brokaw 2640,” Bannon said.

“That’s a mantra that’s throughout the books. And it’s different from the other books [you’ve written]. It’s not a guy jumping into planes, going into war zones, seeing the Berlin Wall, it’s a very different character. It starts at a board meeting in Rochester, Minnesota. You go out there to have a board meeting. You’ve got a sore back. . . But something happens out there. The hero of this book becomes Brokaw 2640,” Bannon added.

“I’m not sure I was the hero,” Brokaw said.

“I had a summer long, very persistent backache,” he explained. “Orthopedists who looked at it also looked at your lifestyle. I had been biking across South America, I went bird hunting in Africa, I was fishing in Montana, but it wouldn’t go away. So my primary care physician at the Mayo Clinic, who was an internist really said it shouldn’t last this long. So he drew some blood early on a Thursday morning and said later in the morning come on over to my office, I’ve got another person who’s going to be there with us. Turned out he was a renowned oncologist, a cancer expert.”

“I still didn’t know what was going on,” Brokaw told Bannon.

“He finished doing that, turned to me and said ‘You have a malignancy.’ These were his words. ‘You have something called multiple myeloma. You know people who have died from this. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice-president had a multiple myeloma. So did Frank Reynolds, the ABC Anchorman.’ I remember thinking at that moment, my God, that’s what Frank died of,” the veteran broadcaster with fifty years at NBC News said.

Frank Reynolds co-anchored ABC’s World News Tonight from 1978 until his death in 1983. “I had talked to [Reynolds] a week before, and it was very mysterious at the time,” Brokaw noted.

“I was unbelievably calm,” he said of his own reaction to the news of his diagnosis. “I had always wondered how you would react to that kind of diagnosis. I didn’t know anything about this cancer. And I looked at him and I said, ‘How long do I have?’

“And he said, ‘Well, statistically five years. But you’re in good shape, and we’re making a lot of progress. I think we can beat that. I want to run some more tests.’

“It was … unreality is the only way to describe it. I was kind of two people. In my body I had a cancer growing. In my head, I was looking at it as if from a distance,” he said.

“This can’t be happening to me. It’s an abstract of some kind. I was a journalist. I was working the turf, so to speak, asking a lot of questions. Walked out of there was really of two minds. I’ve got work to do on the JFK documentary … but I’ve got cancer. Good Lord. What does that mean?” Brokaw said. “I typed into the iPad multiple ‘myeloma.’ What I found is that it happens to men in my age group. It is a pernicious cancer. It is incurable at this point but highly treatable. It enters bone marrow, and that was the reason I had the backache.”

“That was the beginning of a journey that continues. I arrived here this morning on chemotherapy. I got up and took a pill,” he added.

“This book, A Lucky Life Interrupted, this is a pretty tough journey,” Bannon told Brokaw. “This is a very tough process.”

“It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, quite honestly,” Brokaw acknowledged. “Within three days I was back in Montana in excruciating bone pain, couldn’t get out of bed by the following week. They throw everything at me in terms of pain killers. Finally, I had to be medevaced from Montana back to [the Mayo Clinic in] Rochester [Minnesota].”

“I woke up the next day thinking this is going to get better, but it’s going to be a long haul. That was the reality check for me,” he added. “I think the first that happens … is you’ve got to come to grips emotionally and mentally with the consequences of it, and that should become the 24-7 object of your life — deal with cancer.”

Brokaw said that when he was first diagnosed, he did not share the news with many beyond a tight circle that included two of his bosses at NBC, his immediate family, and “one or two very close friends.”

“I didn’t want to show up on the internet, ‘Tom Brokaw, Cancer Victim.’ These days if you have a slight public profile, which I do, you show up in all the sites quickly, whatever you do. If you run a stop sign, suddenly you’re all over the internet. I didn’t want people to look at me with a kind of sense of pity or wondering what was going to happen to me,” Brokaw noted.

After Christmas 2013, the year of his diagnosis, “people began to say to me, ‘Tom, what’s going on?’” he said, and eventually, he decided to go public with his journey, first with interviews, then with his 2015 book.

“Mostly it’s a head game,” Brokaw said. “I’ve got cancer. I would wake up every morning and think ‘My God, I’ve got cancer.’ That would become the scrim through which I would see life… It would take over my thinking. I would wake up at night, and for just a heartbeat, think everything was okay, and then it would kick in.”

“But what you can’t do,” Brokaw added, “is surrender to the paranoia of cancer. I mean, you can really take it out to the worst possible consequences. This is a terminal disease after all. It is untreatable. It did have a five-year life span. I never succumbed to that. I thought, ‘we’re going to beat this’ in some fashion.”

Brokaw s that his family members — his wife, and in particular his oldest daughter, a physician who became his “ombudsman” — were his greatest resource in dealing with the cancer.

“I never lost my temper. I’ve got a fairly discharge when it comes to temper. But I thought, that’s not going to do me any good. I’m not going to get angry at the fact that I have cancer,” he said.

“I think the world is divided in two parts: those who have cancer and those who do not. Those who don’t have cancer can be sympathetic, they can be shocked by the loss of a friend, but then they move on. If you have cancer, and it’s in your family, then you’re empathetic, and it never goes away. It’s 24-7. Even though I didn’t think I was going to die, I knew that we had to treat this successfully,” Brokaw explained.

“How bad is the pain, and how bad is it to come to grips that the pain is not going to go away, it’s every day?” Bannon asked.

“The pain was piercing because it was in my spine among other things, and I ended up having to have spinal repair, I had four compression fractures in my spine. It’s hard to describe. It became all encompassing.

“On the other hand, had been in war zones a lot, and I had flown out on medivac planes, and I had seen young men terribly, terribly damaged. I would always think about them. What I’m going through is tough, but it’s nothing compared to that. I still have all my body parts. I’ve got the best care you could possibly get, and I’m just going to get through this,” he said.

“Today 1,600 people will die in America of cancer,” Brokaw explained. “This is a part of American life. We’ve made great progress in lung cancer, for example, because of the anti-smoking campaign. We’ve made great progress in heart disease because we’ve changed our diets. Cancer still is an inbred evil in our bodies.”

“It is the most pernicious enemy medicine has, cancer is,” the former South Dakotan noted. “All the great oncologists who run Sloan Kettering and Dana Farber and others say the same thing, there is no more difficult enemy that modern medicine has.”

Brokaw closed the discussion of his cancer on an upbeat note.

“In the laboratories now, they are making these big strides,” he said.

Listen to the entire interview below:

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