A Converstation with Rudy Giuliani,
Prostate Cancer Survivor
by Laura Shipp
When it comes to politics, Rudy Giuliani has both supporters and critics, those who tout him as America’s next great leader and those who, well, don’t. Affectionately known by many as “America’s Mayor” for his resolute leadership and unwavering courage in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the former New York City mayor and Republican presidential hopeful is viewed by others as … “controversial.”
I recently had the chance to talk with Mayor Giuliani, and we didn’t discuss politics or the presidency, nor did we delve into his views on immigration, Iraq, tax cuts, or even global warming. There was only one item on the agenda – prostate cancer – more specifically, his personal fight with the disease. And for a few moments in a day filled with campaigning, press briefings, and political speeches, America’s Mayor was simply a cancer survivor sharing his story so that others might be encouraged.
As we begin our conversation, there is an immediate air of familiarity as the mayor tells me about the moment in the spring of 2000 when he learned that his diagnosis was positive. “It’s kind of funny,” he says, now able to look back on it with a lighthearted mindset. “When the doctor called and told me that the results of the PSA test were positive, I said to him, ‘Oh, that’s good.’” With a touch of self-deprecating laughter in his voice, Rudy says that it took a few moments for him to process the information and to realize that in this case, positive for him was not good.
For a few moments in a day filled with campaigning, “America’s Mayor” was simply a cancer survivor sharing his story.
Because of his family history with prostate cancer, Rudy admits that he was more than a little concerned about the diagnosis. However, once he turned his focus to researching treatment options, he began to appreciate the benefits of his early detection. “I came around to the idea that I was very lucky that I had gotten a warning of something that could kill me but that I had an opportunity to do something about,” he says. “From the time when I grew up, cancer used to be like a death sentence. So it took a day or two to get around to the idea that cancer is now a treatable disease in many, many cases.”
After thorough research and consultation, Rudy and his doctors chose to begin treatment with hormone therapy, followed by radioactive-seed implantation and external radiation. Though the side effects of treatment included nausea, hot flashes, and exhaustion, he was able to manage them while continuing his work as mayor of our country’s largest metropolis.
Less than a year later, the mayor and his much-loved city faced an even greater nightmare on September 11, 2001. When I ask him where he found the strength to rise above the devastation and lead the recovery of his city, he tells me that his battle with cancer helped him to face this new tragedy set before him. “It gave me a much better perspective on mortality, on life, on death, on what’s really important,” he says. “It gave me a great deal more empathy for what people were going through. September 11 happened close enough in time to when I went through it where I could really remember it, but long enough so that I was fully recovered, meaning I had all of my energy back, and I was able to work for a period of time 20 hours a day."
“A cancer diagnosis changes your perspective on everything,” Rudy continues. “And you realize that a lot of the things that you would get concerned about in the past and get annoyed about in the past made no sense because there are much bigger issues to deal with. I think the combination of the cancer experience and September 11 gave me a much different perspective on life.”
Today, Rudy is cancer-free and focusing his energy on his presidential run. He says he feels a “tremendous connection” whenever he meets other people who are facing or have been through cancer. “I feel like it is something I can help people with because I’ve gone through it, even if all I can do is give moral support,” he says. “Part of what we all have to do is get the real fear out of the word ‘cancer.’”
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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2008.