Friday, October 19, 2007

Is Fred Thompson Unhealthy? (Part II)

I've been looking into observations on Fred Thompson's health on the campaign trail between the disclosure of his cancer this spring and Michael Crowley's perceptive comment at The Stump following his speech at the Value Voters Summit this morning. Most of the commentary has to do with his flat stump speeches and unexpectedly dry oratory -- very little seems to suggest that his health may be responsible for what a lot of people have considered a lackluster performance. In fact, it almost seems as if it is a taboo among the media to attribute campaign performance to the physical health of a candidate (unless you've done time in POW camp), but a few sources have raised the issue. For the most part I think this is a good thing -- a way of trying to keep the the discussion at a higher level -- but in Thompson's case something clearly seems to be amiss.

One of the only print pieces to recently suggest Thompson's health is an issue is a blurb from a charticle published in the Nashville Tennessean (see the sidebar feature labeled "What They Want You to See" on the right of the screen):
UNHEALTHY: Thompson supporters trumpet his trim new physique. Others see a gaunt old man who may not be up to the grueling task of running for — much less becoming — president.
That was published just 12 days ago (Oct. 7th), just before the GOP debate in Dearborn, Michigan.

One blogger actually asked if Thompson's cancer had returned in August, noting that Thompson was using a golf cart to meet people at the Iowa state fair. The same blogger then went on to observe the gauntness of Thompson in the golf cart speculating that he resembled someone who had recently undergone chemotherapy.

Here's how Thompson announced his cancer in an interview with FOX'S Neil Cavuto:

THOMPSON: ... And that about, oh, two-and-a-half years ago, a little longer than that, while doing a routine physical exam, the doctor found a little bump in my neck there. And a little later on I had it checked out. It turned out to be what doctors call an indolent lymphoma. And I learned that there are over 30 different kinds of lymphomas. Some are very aggressive, and some are indolent, or not aggressive at all. And mine, fortunately, was the good kind, if you can ever call something like that a good kind.

I was — did some treatment, was put into remission and still am. And to go out of remission, to have drugs nowadays that can maintain it, you know, indefinitely, and it shouldn't effect your lifespan at all.

CAVUTO: Remission, but not a cure.

THOMPSON: Well, I don't know if cure is ever the operative word when you're talking about cancer, quite frankly. But if it comes back, the doctors tell me, with a drug — in my case, a new drug called Rituxan that has been around for a few years now, but can maintain it, and people usually die of something else.

But the other fortunate thing about it is that I have had no sickness, no symptoms, I wouldn't know I had it if the doctor hadn't told me that I had it. I have been able to go on about my life, been working a couple of jobs now [etc.]

The specific form of Thompson's cancer is actually very rare. Bloomberg (via Hugh Hewitt) looked into his health in early September and found that

``The nature of the disease is that it tends to relapse,'' said David Fisher, a lymphoma specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. ``How long one can live with the disease varies considerably.'' ...

Thompson's cancer is an uncommon form called nodal marginal zone lymphoma, which accounts for 2 percent to 4 percent of all cases, according to Owen O'Connor, chief of the lymphoma service at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York and author of about 100 research papers on the disease....


``The indolent, or slow-growing lymphomas are very treatable, but rarely if ever curable,'' Cheson said in the April interview. ``Therefore, his likelihood of recurring is high, but this may not happen for a number of years.''

(emphasis added)

(I don't know if this helps at all, but here's a primer on nodal marginal zone lymphoma.)

Hewitt was accused of selecting the most dire of paragraphs of the original Bloomberg piece (alas, no longer available online) by numerous comments on the post, so it's hard to say if there's a cheerier flip side to this prognosis that is absent from the excerpted paragraphs (if there ever is one when cancer's involved).

Yet even if the cancer has returned, neither the disease nor the attendant chemotherapy may be responsible for the candidate's perceived lethargy. Recall that in the interview with Neil Cavuto, Thompson said if the cancer did return it could be "maintain[ed]" by a medicine called Rituxan. According to

Rituxan is given as an injection through a needle placed into a vein. The medicine must be given slowly through an IV infusion. You will receive this injection in a clinic or hospital setting.

Side effects include a "running or stuffy nose," which could explain why Thompson is constantly clearing his throat; also "wheezing or trouble breathing;" and various symptoms that would reduce one's appetite, possibly contributing to the aforementioned gauntness. These side effects could be exasperated by the stress of the campaign trail causing Thompson to lose some of that Reaganesque luster so many expected from him.

Obviously, I don't want Thompson's cancer to return. I don't wish that on anyone. But there appears to be a circumstantial case to suggest that one of the candidates seeking the most powerful office in the world may not be as healthy as voters think.

And it's not like powerful men haven't hid aspects of their health before.

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