Former Congresswoman and Vice Presidential Candidate
by Julie McKenna
Geraldine Ferraro will always hold a place in U.S. history as the first woman vice presidential candidate on a national party ticket. A former congresswoman, she continues to be active as a lecturer, teacher, author, and policy expert. In 1998, shortly after she ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate from New York, Ferraro was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
When Ferraro went in for her annual checkup, her doctor compared her recent blood test to those from previous years and he noticed a trend. Her white blood cell count had progressively become abnormal over several years. After testing her blood, her doctor confirmed that she had multiple myeloma.
“I think God had a plan for me,” Ferraro says when asked about her cancer. “I think the plan was to give me a disease that I could handle so that perhaps I might be able to help others with it. If I didn’t have multiple myeloma, I probably wouldn’t be involved with cancer research because there are so many other things I’m concerned about. But having cancer has given me the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Immediately after Ferraro’s diagnosis, she chose not to go public. “I really didn’t want it to become public. What was going on with my health was my business and I really didn’t feel it was necessary to tell anybody else. I run a consulting business and I’m a political analyst on Fox News; I didn’t want people to look at me and only see cancer.”
"I think God had a plan for me."
Geraldine Ferraro did not go public with her diagnosis until 2001, when Ferraro’s daughter, who is on the board of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, told her that the Foundation was having a difficult time getting a date set for the Senate hearings. Ferraro said she would testify and that convinced the Senators to set a date.
On June 21 Ferraro testified and one year later a bill was signed authorizing $250 million for blood cancer research.
Today, Geraldine Ferraro is in remission and has confidence in her treatment. “I am not worried about broken bones or any side effects because my doctors are on top of it. We’re doing everything to prevent those things from happening. One of the main reasons we’re able to do this is because I was diagnosed so early,” says Ferraro. “What I would love to see is when people go in for annual blood tests, they are screened for this type of disease. Most people don’t discover they have it until there has been a lot of damage to their bones.”
As for the future, Geraldine Ferraro says research will make a monumental difference in how multiple myeloma is treated. She also states, “If you raise awareness, it will lead to an early diagnosis. If you have an early diagnosis, you have a much better chance of addressing this disease.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2002.