By Laura Shipp
CBS news veteran Bob Schieffer knows how to get the story. In his more than 40 years as a Washington correspondent, he has covered every presidential campaign and has interviewed every president and presidential candidate since Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972. His work has earned him many of broadcast journalism’s highest honors, including seven Emmy Awards – one for Lifetime Achievement. He has been CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent since 1982 and for the past 19 years has served as anchor and moderator of Face the Nation, one of the longest running news programs in television history. Each Sunday, he sits down with government leaders, political analysts, and newsmakers to discuss the latest issues facing the country. He is clearly at ease in his role as leader of the roundtable.
But when the tables turned and he became the story, Bob was at first hesitant to focus attention on himself.
Seven years ago, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer after noticing blood in his urine – one of the first symptoms of the disease. Fortunately, the cancer was found early, and doctors were able to remove it while leaving his bladder intact.
He tells Coping® magazine, “I was very reluctant to speak out about it because, number one, men especially are reluctant to talk about what I call ‘below-the-belt’ diseases.” But on the urging of his good friend former White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan (who was an outspoken advocate for cancer research before succumbing to the disease in 2008), Bob began to rethink his reticence.
I’ll say one thing: it hasn’t slowed me down in the least.
He recalls Hamilton saying to him, “You have a platform, and you have no idea how much influence you will have on people and how much you can help them.” It was an appeal Bob couldn’t ignore. He went on Don Imus’s radio talk show, and later CNN, to tell his story.
“I’ve never been sorry that I did it,” he reveals. “And I don’t want to make too much of this, but I may have saved one or two lives. People have told me that they had noticed this symptom – blood in the urine – and didn’t know what to make of it, but didn’t go to the doctor. Because of my talking about it, they went to the doctor and were diagnosed, and their cancer was treated. It really brought home to me how important it is when we have these diseases to not be afraid to talk about them.”
Since then, Bob has made advocating for cancer prevention – particularly smoking cessation – his mission. A former heavy smoker (he quit in 1974 when he contracted ulcerative colitis), he places the blame for his bladder cancer on a three-pack-a-day habit that began in his adolescence. Smoking is a leading risk factor for this type of cancer.
“I’ve almost become a zealot on smoking,” he says. “We look at smoking as being the leading cause of preventable deaths. More than 400,000 people every year die from smoking-related diseases [in the United States]. I can’t tell people enough, and I know they get tired of hearing it, but the fact of the matter is, if you will not smoke, you will live a longer life.”
At 73, Bob is cancer free and is grateful for the life he has lived. Though he has had to deal with several major health conditions – the cancer, ulcerative colitis, and diabetes – none of that has fazed him much. And he definitely doesn’t want anyone coddling him because of it.
“Everybody knows I had cancer,” he says. “But I don’t want people to be coming around saying, ‘Oh, you poor old fellow,’ because I’m not. I’m a very lucky guy. I love my life. I love my work. I still work a six-day week. I’ll say one thing: it hasn’t slowed me down in the least.
“Old age has just a little bit,” he adds with a laugh, “but not these diseases.”
Bob Schieffer has written four books, including Face the Nation: My Favorite Stories from the First 50 Years of the Award-Winning News Broadcast and Bob Schieffer’s America.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2010.