Snow's cancer has spread to liver
EmptyWASHINGTON -- Just last Thursday, Tony Snow was talking emotionally from the White House podium about beating cancer. He lauded Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of presidential contender John Edwards, for her upbeat attitude upon learning that her breast cancer had returned in a treatable but incurable form.
What hardly anyone knew then was that Snow, only a two-year survivor of cancer himself, was being scheduled for surgery to remove a suspicious growth. He would soon find out that he, too, would have to go another round against the often-deadly disease.
"The biggest problem you have a lot of times with cancer is just flat-out fear," he said on Friday after announcing his surgery. "And when you're seeing Elizabeth Edwards saying, 'I'm going to embrace life and I'm going to move forward,' that is a wonderful thing."
On Tuesday, the White House announced that the colon cancer Snow fought two years ago had returned, spreading to his liver and beyond.
Through stunned colleagues, the presidential press secretary relayed an optimistic message: he would fight the disease and get back to work.
"He is not going to let this whip him, and he's upbeat," President Bush said of his press secretary during an appearance in the Rose Garden. "And so my message to Tony is, 'Stay strong; a lot of people love you and care for you and will pray for you."'
Snow, 51, had his colon removed in 2005 and underwent six months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent surgery on Monday to remove a growth in his abdominal area, near the site of the original cancer.
Doctors determined the growth was cancerous and the cancer had metastasized, or spread, to the liver.
The cancer has attached to the liver but is not in the liver, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.
The news rocked the White House. Snow had gone into the surgery saying he felt fine, and recent blood tests and imaging scans had indicated no return of cancer. He had said he opted to remove the growth out of "aggressive sense of caution."
A former radio and TV commentator, Snow brought his star power and camera-ready charm to a beleaguered White House last May. He quickly became the public face of Bush's daily communications and has spoken openly -- and emotionally -- about being a cancer survivor.
He had recently reached the two-year mark of being free of cancer.
"He told me that he beat this thing before," said Perino, "and he intends to beat it again."
It is common for colon cancer patients to suffer a recurrence of cancer, and the most common site is the liver. Medical experts say advances in chemotherapy can allow people with the type of cancer Snow has to return to work and good health for years.
But experts declined to speculate on Snow specifically because many details of his condition are unknown. Among the unanswered questions are how far the cancer spread, how extensive the cancer affecting his liver is, and whether the cancer can be surgically removed if it hasn't been already.
"This is a very treatable condition," said Dr. Allyson Ocean, a gastrointestinal oncologist at Weill Cornell Medical College. "Many patients, because of the therapies we have, are able to work and live full lives with quality while they're being treated. Anyone who looks at this as a death sentence is wrong."
Perino said Snow is feeling fine after his surgery and has pledged to fight the disease aggressively, likely with chemotherapy but perhaps with other treatments as well. He will be in the hospital recovering from the surgery, a major procedure, for about a week.
Perino broke into tears as she informed reporters Tuesday morning. She said Snow also gave her some instructions to pass on to reporters: "Tell them not to bug me." Throughout the day, lawmakers and members of the public sent good wishes to the White House.
Among them was Sen. John Edwards, a presidential candidate whose wife, Elizabeth, learned last week that her breast cancer had returned in an incurable but treatable form. Snow had publicly lauded her that day for dealing with her cancer without fear. At the time of those comments, Snow knew he was about to undergo more surgery of his own, although he did not know what the tests would show.
"Tony has been an incredible example for people living with cancer and cancer survivors," John Edwards said Tuesday.
Some 153,760 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, and more than 52,000 will die of the disease.
Chemotherapy is a mainstay when the cancer has spread to more than one site, with the hope of controlling, even shrinking, tumors to prolong life.
It was unclear if or when Snow would return to his duties. Perino is leading the news briefings in his absence, which had been expected to be several weeks even before the discovery that his cancer had come back.
Snow and his wife, Jill, have three children, 10, 11 and 14.