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John Kerry Takes the Fight Against Cancer Personally

by Pamela Leavey

On Saturday, John Kerry will once again ride in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge. This will be the fourth time he has particpated in the ride to raise money for cancer research. The Boston Globe has a wonderful interview with Kerry about his personal quest against cancer. On Monday, John Kerry delivered a speech at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, laying out his comprehensive Healthcare Plan that calls for Universal Health Care coverage for all by 2012.

Kerry’s Pan-Mass Challenge takes on a personal touch: John Kerry takes fight against cancer personally
By Bella English, Globe Staff

As he prepares to bicycle 111 miles Saturday to raise money for cancer, Senator John Kerry reflected this week on his own battle with the disease, saying prostate cancer changed his life profoundly — from his relationships with friends, family, and constituents to his political battles for better health care for poor people.

“It doesn’t scare me as much as cancer just pisses me off,” said Kerry, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer during his presidential primary campaign in 2002. “Too many incredible people weren’t as lucky as I was, some because they had a cancer we can’t yet cure, and others because they didn’t get screening or care in time or couldn’t afford great health care. Every American should have the same health care that senators and congressmen get.”

Though his doctors consider him cured of the early-stage cancer — his prostate was removed in February 2003 — Kerry gets regular checkups. His last one, 12 days ago, was clean.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Kerry, 63, who spoke on his way to Belmont Wheelworks, the bike store he frequents. He needed a new wheel for his custom-built Serotta and had to get his bicycle cleats fixed before this weekend’s Pan-Massachusetts Challenge. He’ll join 4,300 other cyclists to benefit cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Kerry, an avid cyclist, has participated in the fund-raiser three times before, raising $12,475. He’s also biked for cancer research in Iowa with Lance Armstrong, a two-time survivor, and wears on his left wrist the yellow rubber “Livestrong” bracelet worn by millions of Armstrong fans.

This year, for the first time, he sent a charitable pledge plea to his database of 3 million supporters. The e-mailed request bears the heading “Because I was lucky” and a link to “help John Kerry support the Jimmy Fund.” He writes that he’ll be among the 200 or so riders who are cancer survivors. “At the fund-raising training sessions for the event, they tell you to e-mail your friends for their help. But I don’t suppose they realized I had 3 million friends in my e-mail address book,” he wrote. The five people who come closest to guessing his riding time will win Pan-Mass Challenge jerseys autographed by Kerry.

Kerry is known as a skilled and fast cyclist who has done a number of “centuries,” or hundred-mile rides, for charity. He bikes — and kiteboards, windsurfs, and skis — for his physical and emotional health. “The point is to get enough exercise to stay healthy, and so that I don’t get ornery.”

Though the Pan-Mass Challenge is a two-day event, Kerry is riding only the first day, from Sturbridge to Bourne; he says he must be at Logan Airport later that afternoon. “I have six conflicts on Saturday, but this is sacrosanct. I’m doing this,” he said.

Kerry says he has had an interest in cancer research from his early days in the Senate but that the political became personal when his father, his ex-wife, and he himself were diagnosed with the disease. His grandfather also died of colon cancer.

“On a personal level, my interest rose dramatically when my father got prostate cancer and died in 2000. Three years later, I was diagnosed, and one year later, my ex-wife was diagnosed.” Julia Thorne died in April at age 61 of transitional-cell carcinoma. She and Kerry were married from 1970 to 1988 and have two daughters.

“Losing friends and family to this disease opens your eyes,” he said. “It reminds you to take a couple of minutes to call someone you haven’t seen in years or reach out to someone going through cancer.” Kerry says he gets many e-mails and phone calls from constituents, seeking advice regarding cancer. “They want referrals, or they share their stories.”

A decorated Vietnam veteran who was wounded in battle, Kerry says cancer, like war, taught him that “every day above ground is extra” and has brought his family closer together. It was his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who prodded him to get checked out. Once he was diagnosed, he said, “it was as if she was battling cancer herself.”

His wife sometimes bikes with him, he said, and monitors his eating habits. “Teresa has assumed the task of making sure I eat healthy, which can be hard, because I have a weak spot for chocolate chip cookies and a habit of finding fast food when I’m on the road.”

Kerry also spoke of friends, including a Vietnam buddy, who died of cancer, and those, like a couple of Yale classmates, who had beat it. Cancer strengthened many of his relationships, he said. He and one of his friends, Tom Farrington of the Prostate Health Education Network, were both successfully treated for prostate cancer. And it was this friendship that led Kerry to believe there is an “awful apartheid in health care.”

“We started learning things that just gnawed at both of us,” Kerry said. “Tom’s African-American. Well, we learned that African-American men are 80 percent more likely to die of prostate cancer than white men. If that’s not a doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ in health care, I don’t know what is. It’s wrong. Beating cancer should never depend on the color of your skin. So, given the choice of being scared of cancer, or being pissed off at cancer . . . I’ve chosen to get mad and get energized.”

2 Responses to “John Kerry Takes the Fight Against Cancer Personally”

  1. I got the email. I was gonna post on it before company showed up earlier. Glad to you posted it.

  2. Donnie

    This is from a Boston Globe article – if you have time to post the email – please do!