General H. Norman Schwarzkopf
I Wany YOU for the March on Cancer!
by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, US Army (Ret.)
For over two decades, celebrities have entrusted Coping® to tell the world about their personal experience with cancer. We are proud to present this exclusive interview from our archives and hope that it will inspire and encourage all who read it. This article was originally published in Coping with Cancer magazine, March/April 1998.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 1998.
Most people associate me with Operation Desert Storm, in which the military forces under my command won the war, but I'm alive today because I won my other battle -- the one with prostate cancer. My battle is over, but the war on cancer goes on. President Nixon declared war on cancer back in 1971. Twenty-seven years is a long time to fight a war -- too long. I want to challenge the American people -- all of us -- to make the commitments necessary to win this war on cancer, starting with a commitment to support a new national grassroots campaign called "The March: Coming Together to Conquer Cancer."
I was named national chairman of this campaign. It's a mission I'm proud to be a part of. "The March" is spearheaded by the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. This coalition has brought together dozens of cancer organizations of all kinds to support this campaign to win the war on cancer.
In order to win a war, you must have three things. First and foremost, you must have the full support of the people. Second, you need brave men and women -- heroes -- who are willing to move into harm's way. And third, you must make a commitment to arm those troops with the best weapons and equipment available. That's what we had in Kuwait, and they were the keys to victory. I am convinced that, with those crucial keys in hand, we can also win the war on cancer.
I have more than a casual interest in the war on cancer because of my experience with prostate cancer. My battle began with, of all things, a sore knee. I had tendonitis in my left knee, so I went to the hospital to get a shot of cortisone and get my knee checked. After I saw the orthopedist, I thought, "While I'm here, I'll go see the urologist." Not that I had any great need to -- I'd had a PSA test just a year before and it was normal -- but it had been awhile since I'd seen the urologist, so I decided to stop by. The doctor examined me and said, "You know, something doesn't seem quite right there. We'd better run some tests and do a biopsy." Of course I panicked, but he said, "Don't worry, I've done this a thousand times. It isn't prostate cancer, but I think we ought to have a look to see what it is."
I had the tests and they were fine. I had an ultrasound, and the technician said, "I've seen thousands of these things, and I can tell you you've got nothing to worry about." He went so far as to guarantee that I didn't have cancer. I had to wait a week or so for the results on my biopsy, but I wasn't worried. My PSA was fine, the other tests were negative, and besides, generals don't get things like prostate cancer, right? Wrong. It was five o'clock on a Friday afternoon when I got the call from my doctor. I was going to leave with my son at 5:15 to see Man of La Mancha in Orlando. It was like a bad dream: "I don't know how to say this," my doctor stammered, "other than to say you have cancer." It was like he had hit me with a hammer. I was in total shock. I said, "Wait a minute! I don't have cancer! My tests were all negative! I can't have cancer!"
I want to challenge the American people - all of us - to make the commitments necessary to win this war on cancer, starting with a commitment to support a new national grassroots campaign called "The March: Coming Together to Conquer Cancer."
I thank God that I had to drive my son to Orlando to see the musical. I didn't tell him about the diagnosis. I wasn't ready to do that. But just driving the car seemed to somehow help me. At least it was something to do, and it beat the hell out of bouncing off the walls at home. As it turned out, "doing something" was the key to my recovery. Of course, to beat cancer you have to do something more than just take a long drive. But my instinct to "do something" was right on target. About midway through the show, around the time Don Quixote sang The Impossible Dream, I decided I was going to beat this cancer. I took the offensive -- to talk to people with prostate cancer, to talk with the best doctors I could find, and to read everything I could get my hands on. In short, I became an advocate for myself -- something everyone with cancer should do. Beyond that, I decided to look for a purpose in getting hit with a cancer diagnosis.
When I was in the Persian Gulf, I didn't spend a lot of time daydreaming about my place in history. I was too busy being mindful of my responsibility to the men and women I was leading. Now, it's the same way with cancer. I want to play my part to make sure that people with cancer get the best care available, and that they can find the information they need to make good decisions. Beyond that, I want to do my share in making cancer a thing of the past, like polio. Does that sound like an "impossible dream" to you? If so, I challenge you to dare to dream the dream anyway. Dare to believe that we can find a cure for cancer, or a way to prevent it in the first place. Because we can -- if only we will.
To win the war on cancer, we must have the full support of the American people. There is every reason to believe we can win that support, because nowadays just about everyone knows someone, or knows of someone, with cancer. Next, we need troops. We need people who are willing to stand up and speak out and demand a renewed commitment to the war on cancer. We need heroes. We need YOU.
Ever since the Gulf War, a lot of people have called me a hero. Well, I have to tell you, "hero" is not a title I'm comfortable with. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "It doesn't take a hero to lead troops into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those troops going into battle." I challenge you to become a hero in the war on cancer. Don't think for a minute that you're not important enough or not powerful enough to make a difference. We need each and every cancer survivor, and every American for that matter, who cares about cancer survivorship to come forward. And there are some real, practical ways you can do this. Let's start with The March. Through The March, we'll send America a wake-up call about cancer. We will do this through a media campaign with full-page ads in major newspapers and through appearances on television and radio. We'll show the American people that cancer is everyone's issue, that almost everyone will be affected by cancer in some way during their lifetimes, and that we need a serious boost in resources to fight this thing.
We'll top off the campaign with a demonstration in Washington, D.C., on September 26, 1998. We want to pack the streets in D.C. and in communities across the country with people like you and me and demand that our nation's leaders get serious about winning this long war on cancer. We're out to change history. We've made progress, no question, but half of the people diagnosed with cancer die from it. And with a million and a half people -- a million and a half! -- diagnosed with cancer every year, that's too much pain, too many deaths, too much grief. This has got to stop.
You can play a part in this great campaign. We need you to play a part in this campaign. And whether you are a cancer survivor, someone who loves a cancer survivor, or someone who just plain understands that cancer is everyone's issue, I challenge you to be a hero in the war on cancer. I challenge you to support The March. If you can, join us in Washington, D.C., on September 26 . If you can't make it to Washington, get involved in your community. You could host an event in your community that would call attention to the issues. You could start a letter-writing campaign. You could just talk to friends and co-workers about The March. But whatever you do, do something. We need action. We need everybody who cares about the cancer epidemic to stand and march with us. The only way we can win this thing is to work together, so let's do it. And when we do finally win, we can say, "This is a great day to be a soldier in the war on cancer!"
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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 1998.