MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman has cancer again.
This time, it’s in its most advanced stage, but he is remarkably upbeat describing it — and is fighting it head-on.
For 35 years, Coleman was committed to public service. Now, the former lawmaker sees his condition as a new way to contribute.
WCCO-TV’s Frank Vascellaro sat down to discuss his message of awareness, early detection and empathy.
WEB EXTRA: Norm Coleman Discusses His Cancer Fight
“When I first found out I had it, yeah, I was pretty devastated, that was a shock,” Coleman said. “But I, you know, quickly kind of pulled that together.”
Content, relaxed and confident, Coleman is putting it all out there. Chemotherapy took his hair, but not his spirit.
“Other than this John Malkovich look, for your viewers who know me this is not always the Norm Coleman look, other than that I was feeling pretty good,” he said.
That was after five weeks of chemo. Now, to attack his lung cancer, Coleman drives with friends to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for radiation treatments every Monday through Friday. He will do that for five weeks straight.
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“It’s almost like being in a tanning booth. I go in, I take my shirt off and put on the goggles and I get in the machine,” Coleman said. “If the cancer’s on your lungs, it’s a moving target. You actually have to hold your breath and get in a set position, and that’s when the radiation hits.”
That’s what you do, because cancer doesn’t care if you were the mayor who helped revitalize a city, a senator who had the ear of presidents, or a man who rubbed elbows with the rich and famous. Coleman is exposing his vulnerability to help make all of us a little stronger.
“It’s interesting, I always felt that I was kind of a sympathetic person before,” Coleman said. “But as I kind of went through this, it kind of opened up another layer about how pervasive this is, about how many cancer survivors are out there, how many families are impacted. And I hope it’s helpful to say, ‘Hey you’re not alone.’”
His cancer is caused by HPV. Eighty million Americans have the virus. For 5 percent of them, it turns into cancer.
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“But today you can get a vaccine so you don’t have it and the next generation of kids shouldn’t have it in their body,” he said.
Coleman and his wife Laurie have been married for 38 years. They have two grown children, but also lost two infant children to a rare genetic disorder. Faith kept him afloat then, and still does today.
“Part of it is faith. Frank, I’m truly telling you I went through chemo and hardly had side effects. I really believe that’s the power of prayer,” Coleman said. “People tell me that they’re praying for me. I had the Israeli prime minister praying for me, my wife’s Catholic and I’ve got the archbishop praying for me.”
Prayers may help calm his anxiety, but Coleman is pragmatic enough to know the cancer he calls “the beast inside him” may never completely go away.
“I’m not going to sleep at night in fear,” he said. “So I hope in five years I’m still going to the lake on the weekends, I’m still putting some time in the office, taking care of my family and enjoying life.”
Sen. Coleman is encouraging people to look into the HPV vaccine. He waited months to see a doctor about a dry patch in his throat, and says perhaps if he caught it earlier, it wouldn’t have progressed so far.
Coleman also wants to acknowledge his doctors at Mayo Clinic for their ongoing care and guidance.
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