Washington, D.C. -- The director of the nation's leading cancer
research institute today conceded he usually turns off news reports
about the disease because "just hearing the C-word" makes
him think he has it.
According to Robert Holmgren, director of the U.S. Cancer Research
Center, overcoming ignorance and helping people recognize symptoms
is perhaps the greatest weapon in the fight against cancer. Except
in his case.
"I don't want to get it, so I have to switch off the radio
if the subject of... if the subject even comes up," Holmgren
said. The director also confided that he never watches "Medical
Minute" reports on local television news, avoids the "Health" section
of the newspaper altogether, and would really, really like to talk
about something else now.
Not surprisingly, staff members at the Center, which oversees more than $500
million in annual research grants, said working for a Carcinophobic director
is exceedingly difficult.
"Yesterday I was giving a report about testicular cancer, and
as soon as I got to the part about symptoms, Bob started clearing
his throat and humming," said USCRC epidemiologist Franz Bakker. "He
does that all the time, like we don't notice."
If Holmgren does listen, Bakker added, "He always ends the
meeting asking questions like, 'But that's really rare, right?' and
we spend that last half hour convincing him he's not going to die."
Meanwhile, the Center's communications director, Patty Sparma, said
she is often forced to leave out the word "cancer" when
introducing her boss.
"Last week, Bob made a speech to the National Institutes of
Health, and I had to introduce him as the, 'Director of the United
States Stuff That Happens to Other People Research Center,'" she
recalled. "Then during the Q&A session afterward, every
time someone asked about a particular cancer, he kept changing the
subject to sports."
While Holmgren admits his relations with colleagues can be awkward,
he noted that not every form of the disease bothers him.
"For instance, I don't mind hearing about breast cancer because,
c'mon, I'm not going to get that," he said.
When a reporter attempted to tell Holmgren that 1 of every 100 cases
of breast cancer actually occurs in males, the director stuck his
fingers in his ears and made "Loo-da-loo-da-loo" sounds
until the interviewer stopped.
This predilection for personal nescience is a particular concern
to Holmgren's wife, Alicia. "Bob isn't young, he's 49 years
old," she said. "At his age, he should really consider
getting a colonoscopy because..."
"Whoa!" Holmgren interrupted. "Did anybody see that
Packers game on Sunday?"
Holmgren was equally uneasy when asked if he had ever had cancer
"There's no way I can answer that question, is there?" he
said. "I mean, if I say yes, that wouldn't be true, but if I
say no, then tomorrow I'll wake up and have it."
"Thanks a lot, pal," he added.
In closing, Holmgren encouraged all Americans over age 40, except
himself, to get a physical.
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