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Robert Novak's battle with 4 cancers highlights importance of making informed treatment choices

August 18, 5:38 PMBlood Cancers ExaminerCathy Doheny


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Legendary political columnist and television commentator Robert Novak died today at age 78 after battling brain cancer. Diagnosed with a large grade IV brain tumor in July of 2008 at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Novak was given only six months to a year to live.

Having survived three different cancers in the past (prostate cancer in 1991, lung cancer in 1994, and kidney cancer in 2003), Novak decided that the oncologists in Boston had been too conservative and sought the opinion of Dr. Donald Morton of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California. Dr. Morton had performed the surgery to remove Novak's lung cancer in 1994 and had become a friend and medical adviser to him. Dr. Morton referred Novak to Dr. Allan H. Friedman, chief of neurosurgery at Duke University Medical Center, who recommended a surgical removal of the tumor. Following a more than 4-hour surgery to remove the 3-by-1 inch tumor, Novak underwent chemotherapy and radiation managed by the team of doctors at Duke and carried out at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Though obviously not a cure for Novak, the regimen may have indeed extended his life and, more importantly enabled him to feel more empowered over his situation and body. In an interview with Inside Catholic shortly after he was diagnosed, Novak said that he did not expect to beat cancer this time, but decided to pursue surgery against the advise of some of his doctors, in the hope that he could improve his quality of life and perhaps even extend it.

A veteran of cancer battles, Novak had undergone surgery for his three previous cancers as well. In 2003, he had a cancerous growth removed from his kidney, and as mentioned before, he underwent a surgery at Duke University Medical Center in 1994 to remove lung cancer. Additionally, Dr. Patrick Walsh, professor and director of the Brady Urological Institute at John Hopkins in Baltimore operated on Novak for prostate cancer in 1992.

Novak took an interest in speaking for various cancer organizations, as well as interviewing esteemed doctors to help educate the public and stress the importance of patients researching and making informed treatment choices.

For more info: Robert Novak's Interview with Dr. Patrick Walsh (CNN Transcripts), Novak on Novak: Life after his cancer diagnosis

*photo - Wikimedia Commons (author - Dori)

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