Damon Runyon Blog

October 25, 2016

Damon Runyon staff spoke with NBC News journalist, author and cancer survivor Tom Brokaw after he provided remarks at our 2016 Annual Breakfast. The following blog post was edited and condensed from that interview.


DR: Thank you for attending our 2016 Annual Breakfast.


TB: I was very impressed with the whole organization. I had known kind of broadly about the organization, but that was an impressive breakfast.


DR: As you know, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation focuses on identifying brilliant young scientists, and encourages them to pursue new and potentially risky ideas, what’s your impression of that type of a strategy?


TB: I think that’s the key. I think the Damon Runyon focus is the appropriate one. I was at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center the other day and I went in with Vice President Joe Biden who was making a visit as part of his Moonshot Initiative, and I was so struck by all of these brilliant young scientists, who work in obscurity all day long, and they have one goal in mind, which is to just beat back cancer and hope one day to cure it. I was a guy who struggled with high school biology, and I am really impressed by their patience, intellect, and their spirit of discovery. It seems to me that we’re on the cusp of the Golden Age because of monoclonal immunotherapy and other advancements.


DR: What has your own cancer diagnosis taught you?


TB: Well it’s clear to me at this stage of my life that I’m not just a journalist, not just the author of The Greatest Generation, but I was also somebody who carried cancer, and that changed my life. It did not become all consuming, but it was very close to that, and I see everything now through the prism of cancer. But I’ve learned to live with it, and as someone with a high profile, I also cherish my role as someone who can be there for other people, not just for people with multiple myeloma, but with other cancers. I get stopped on the street constantly, and what I learned very quickly after my own diagnosis is that there are two worlds: those who have cancer, and those who don’t. Those who don’t have it can be sympathetic, but you cannot be empathetic until it enters your family or your own body. And it’s a population that is dependent upon one and other, and I’m happy to have a prominent role in that.


DR: During a recent television appearance to promote your new book, A Lucky Life Interrupted, you said you were grateful to learn that many doctors were sharing the book with their patients. What’s the best advice you can give to cancer patients, particularly the newly diagnosed?


TB: I’ve really strongly come to recommend that whatever type of cancer there is, find someone who is a friend who is doctor or other medical professional, it doesn’t matter what their special­ty is, but they know the language of medicine and the culture of medicine, and they become your ombudsman. That was the case with me and my daughter Jennifer. She knew what questions to ask, and she would know about other treat­ments. She had a better read on me in my hours away from the clinic than I did.


DR: Thank you for your time, sir, we wish you con­tinued good health.