Sunday, May 06, 2007

Koppel on Discovery: Living with Cancer


On Sunday, May 6, 2007 Ted Koppel (former Nightline anchor) hosted a three hour special on The Discovery Channel from the company headquarters in Silver Spring, MD (not far from the AFI Silver Theater, and visible from the elevated Red Line Metro). Koppel presented biographical stories of bicycle Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, now 35, and a war correspondent Leroy Sievers.

Armstrong's story is well known. In October 1996 he was coughing up blood and received a diagnosis of aggressive testicular cancer, already metastisized. "It went upstairs" he says. He had brain and lung lesions, and required aggressive chemotherapy with cis-platinum, with brutal nausea and hair loss. At one point he had a 50-50 chance to survive, but soon was returing to racing. This is a sport that looks a little slick, where men shave down (as in swimming) to peak and remove wind resistance, as in the 1985 movie with Kevin Costner, "American Flyers."

Armstrong has dedicated himself to raising funds for cancer research, as a second career. He says it is a perfect fit after "retirement" as an athlete. But Armstrong is also one of the most biologically gifted athletes known.

Sievers presented a harrowing story, having colon cancer surgery, and then four years later, starting to slur his speech when walking with Ted Koppel on the C&O toe path near Washington DC in Maryland. He was found to have metastises on his lungs and brain, which were treated with generations of chemotherapy. He was close to accepting his end, when another oncologist at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore offered a new treatment to cauterize the tumors on his lungs. Now, according to him, he has no visible tumors. Much of his presentation concerned the fact that, when off chemotherapy, he had no symptoms and wondered if the "cure was worse than the disease." Another female patient with pancreatic cancer was presented, as was a pregnant woman recovering from a chronic leukemia. Elizabeth Edwards (Senator John Edwards 's wife, with breast cancer) also appeared and commented on the lack of availability of top of the line treatment for everyone.

The difficulties in making top-line treatment for all victims was discussed, as was the issue of employers.

Lance Armstrong's story would obviously make a good film, probably for network TV.

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