Like many people, I have been touched by cancer. Family members, close friends and ex-girlfriends all have battled the disease.
Sometimes it's hard to know what to say. Mostly, I admire their bravery. I remember my dad telling me he had colon cancer.
"What are you going to do?" I asked.
"Cut it out," he said matter-of-factly, as though it were a tiresome inconvenience.
Tom Brokaw, 76, is battling multiple myeloma. The famed NBC newsman has discussed his three-year fight more publicly in 2016. His essay on life with cancer recently was published in The New York Times.
The topic led off his keynote address Tuesday capping the LIMRA 2016 Annual Conference. Brokaw openly shared the entire experience, weaving in warm anecdotes throughout:
• On the doctor who reminded him that newsman Frank Reynolds and politician Geraldine Ferraro died of myeloma: “That was his bedside manner.”
• On asking his two young granddaughters to tone down their visits while he was receiving treatments: “They visited a few days later and said ‘Tom, we’ve talked about it and we’re going to keep the decibels down.’”
• On the LIMRA attendees: “And just for this audience, I have enough life insurance.”
Brokaw is celebrating 50 years in the news business. Together with Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, he was one of the “Big Three” nightly news anchors during the 1980s and 1990s.
Watching the enthralling 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election unfold on television drew Brokaw to broadcast journalism. And his passion for the craft drove him to view his cancer diagnosis through the lens of a journalist.
“I asked the doctor ‘How long?’” Brokaw said. “He said, ‘Normally five years, but you’re in good health.’”
Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells and there is no cure. Brokaw is being treated at the famed Mayo Clinic and regularly communicates with other sufferers, including an NFL “DEs coach” that he declined to name.
“I want everyone to know I am OK,” he said. “I am at peace with this. We're going to beat this, or at least extend it as long as we can.”
Even during the worst of his treatments, a determined Brokaw walked a half-mile to and from a coffee shop near his home in New York City. The route passed a bus stop and a huge advertising picture of dashing New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady.
The gazes of women disembarking the buses were invariable drawn to the handsome Brady, Brokaw recalled.
“So I began dropping the F-bomb on Tom Brady as I walked past,” he said.
Sometime later, Brokaw and Brady met at an event. The newsman related how Brady “inspired” him, which prompted roars of laughter from the QB’s “posse.”
“'No one talks to Tom Brady that way,’ they said,” he added.
Brokaw shared many other interesting thoughts and humorous tales during his hour-long talk. I’ll condense them here:
• Brokaw has been married to Miss South Dakota 1959 Meredith Lynn Auld for 54 years. But their journey to the altar was not smooth, he said. Auld actually wrote off the aimless Brokaw with a blistering rebuke that would set him on the path to success.
“She said, ‘I think you fool around too much,’” Brokaw recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t think you fool around enough.’”
The couple would go on to have three daughters together.
• The 9/11 attacks set America on the path to Donald Trump being a major-party nominee, Brokaw said. Economic troubles contributed, with government bailing out the biggest banks and automakers. Meanwhile, regular Americans “lost their jobs. Lost their homes,” Brokaw said. Establishment politicians underestimated the cynicism and anger that resulted.
Younger people came of age thinking “maybe I should just look out for myself,” he said.
• Brokaw has 105,000 Twitter followers, but tweets only sporadically. He left his audience feeling he is not a huge fan of the social media, calling it “the most influential political force in America right now. … Donald Trump could not have become the candidate without” social media.
Fact-checking is treated casually as the speed of reporting takes precedence, he noted, and reckless journalism results.
“It's this whole group of people chasing this nonstory at any given time,” he said.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected].
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