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Agriculture Secretary Says She Has Treatable Breast Cancer

Health: Veneman says the disease was caught in early stages and she plans to begin therapy this week. Bush hails his Cabinet member as a hero.

September 19, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said Wednesday she has an early form of breast cancer and will begin treatment this week. At a White House gathering of cancer survivors, President Bush praised her as a hero and said, "We can stop cancer in its tracks."

Veneman said she intends to stay on as secretary, though her treatments are expected to last several weeks.

"I'm fine. I mean, I'm more fine now than I will be when I start the treatment, because then you have to go through all of that. But I'm doing OK," Veneman said. "It's hard news to get, but obviously, it's very early and I'm very thankful for that."

Veneman, 53, said she would be unable to travel for several weeks but that it should not affect department operations.

"It is 98% curable and my doctors expect a complete recovery following treatment," she wrote department employees.

Treatments will include a lumpectomy, a breast-saving type of cancer surgery in which only the lump is removed, followed by six weeks of radiation therapy, she said.

Veneman identified the cancer as "ductal carcinoma in situ," tiny tumors that are not invasive cancer and do not always become life-threatening. She credited a mammogram with catching the disease early.

"I knew I picked an extraordinary person when I named her to run the Department of Agriculture," Bush said in an East Room ceremony in which he offered a progress report on the fight against cancer. "I didn't realize I was going to pick a heroic figure as well, an example for many people to understand the need to get a mammogram, the need to take care of yourself, the need to screen early, the need to understand that we can stop cancer in its tracks if we all take wise moves."

Bush said more than 60% of those diagnosed with cancer today can expect to be alive in five years. Five-year survival rates for testicular cancer have reached 95%, he said.

"Today, 8.9 million Americans are cancer survivors, and research and new technology offer hope, offer a lot of hope that this number will continue to grow significantly," he said. "There are still many high medical hurdles that we're going to have to clear here in America, but for the first time in human history, we can say with certainty the war on cancer is winnable."

But more than 1,500 Americans die from cancer every day, he said. Cancer survivor and four-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who turned 31 Wednesday, said that meant "a tragedy like 9/11 is every two days of this illness." Bush said his proposed 2003 budget would increase funds for cancer research by $629 million, bringing spending on cancer research throughout the National Institutes of Health to more than $5 billion.

Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, told Bush: "This fight has got to be one of our biggest priorities."

Looking around the stage at half a dozen people who have lived through cancer, Armstrong added, "We need more survivors up here."

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