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Interview With President George H.W. and Barbara Bush

Aired April 23, 2007 - 21:00   ET




LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, former president and Barbara Bush -- for them, the fight to cure cancer is personal.


BUSH: They named this clinic for our daughter Robin.


KING: Tragedy struck half a century ago when they lost their daughter Robin, not yet four years old, to leukemia.

Now, the former president and first lady show you how they're helping provide hope for a cure.

An emotional, inspiring hour with the Bushes is next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It is our privilege tonight to be with the 41st president of the United States and the former first lady, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. They're co-chairs of C-Change, a mission designed to eliminate cancer as a major public health problem at the earliest possible time.

They're also life members of the University Cancer Foundation Board of Visitors for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and we're at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center itself, a remarkable institution created by the Texas legislature in 1941, out of the country's three original comprehensive cancer centers.

It was here that they dedicated the Robin Bush Clinic in honor of the Bushes' late daughter, who died in 1953, before reaching the age of four.

We're going to discuss the ongoing efforts to treat and prevent cancer here at M.D. Anderson and around the country, including the work of C-Change. That's a coalition co-chaired by the Bushes, in which I'm very proud to be a member.

First, a couple of thoughts on things and then we'll get into this. When a president faces a thing like Virginia Tech, what -- how do you deal with something like that?

G. BUSH: Well, I know what -- how this president does, is a lot of -- he has a lot of faith. He realizes that, you know, we've got to go forward and he tries to heal the country as best he can by sound words.

He -- I was very touched by the reception that he got down there at the university. But then you just go forward. It happens in war, it happens in terror like this. It happens in all kinds of things. So you have to be strong and lead and have people, you know, recognize these things will happen and then do -- do our best to see they don't.

KING: You know, there was a lot of people resonating the fact that they showed the killer. He did a tape and then NBC...

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, we had some copycats, so maybe it was not good. I don't know. I have no idea.

I don't like the blame game, though. I think we can learn lessons from this. There's some kind of funny human rights things for students where the parents can't know if they're sick or...

KING: Right.

B. BUSH: ... can't know their marks. And I'm sort of against that. I think you ought to be told if your child is having psychiatric problems. But I don't know about it either, just that it was such a tragedy.

KING: Do you think there's a way, Mr. President, that we could possibly stay constitutional and still get someone who shouldn't be in that community out?

G. BUSH: Well, I think you've got to find a way. I mean, but -- but here was a kind of an adult youth. He's from Korea, a friendly country. His family were good people.

What I hope, Larry, is that people don't turn on the big Korean population of that school just of the horrors -- the horrible things that this one Korean kid did.

They're wonderful people. And I just hope there's not a -- a backlash. I don't think there will be there. I don't think at that school they're going to turn on their fellow students, who happen to be of Korean background.

KING: You've got grandchildren.

Do you worry about them...

B. BUSH: Yes.

KING: ... coming of age in an era of Columbine... B. BUSH: Yes, I worry about -- I -- you know, I would say to everybody, you've got to watch your children and see what they're going through, if they're being bullied at school or if they don't have friends or if they're doing an awful lot on Internet. I mean you can learn how to build a bullet or build a gun or build a bomb on the Internet.

I'm a little old-fashioned. George says we're going to slip away just at the right time. But this was pretty tough.

KING: A couple of other quick things then I'm going right to cancer.

Earlier this month, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney praised your son Jeb as quite a guy and he said if his name wasn't Bush, he would be running for president.

What do you think of that?

G. BUSH: There's something to that. There might be a little Bush fatigue now. But...

KING: We're tired of you people.

B. BUSH: I'd say he's brilliant, Mitt Romney.

G. BUSH: Yes, but some day Jeb...


G. BUSH: ... I hope that Jeb, who left office looking good. He's not through with politics. I think he's a good man. Most other people think that, a man of principal. And I think he's got a future. But it's not now -- in politics.

KING: Should Mitt Romney's religion be held against him?

B. BUSH: No. Not at all. I mean, it was in 1897 that bigamy was outlawed in that church and, you know, we have a lot of Christian wild people, too. And a lot of Jewish wild people, a lot of Muslim wild people. The Muslim -- the Mormon religion takes care of their own. They don't have people on welfare. I think it's, you know, they believe in a greater thing.

You know that. You're married to a Mormon.

KING: I know. I know. She's over there.

A spirited race in the GOP primary this year?

G. BUSH: Yes. I have no dog in that hut. But it's a very good man who's leading, and there's some others, too. So -- and I cannot talk badly about the Democrats. So it's going to be good. It's very, very early. But it's comfortable to be on the sidelines.

KING: Three have had cancer -- Fred Thompson if he announces... G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: ... McCain and Giuliani.

G. BUSH: That's true.

B. BUSH: He did.

G. BUSH: That's true.

KING: Now, 20 years ago, I don't think you could run with cancer, could you, having had cancer?

G. BUSH: I think maybe you're right...

KING: It would probably (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

G. BUSH: ... Larry. I mean people -- it's a fearful kind of thing. But there's so much progress being made that I think -- I don't think the fact that somebody had cancer -- is a cancer survivor -- can be anything but a plus. It shows a certain courage to get through the treatments and all of that.

And, yes, I hadn't even thought of it before those three, but there are. And maybe others, too.

KING: Are you going to get involved in the campaign?

B. BUSH: No.

KING: No, no, no, no?

B. BUSH: No. Not, certainly, in the primary. No. We heard Giuliani say the other day he was going to be in a debate and there were 10 Republicans. Now, you can imagine the debate. They'll all be able to say hello, my name is, and then they'll move on to the next man. Ten.

KING: Do you miss it, Mr. President?

G. BUSH: No. I make -- I miss making decisions. That's all. I don't miss being there at the head table or the glories of the...


G. BUSH: No. Well, of course, we -- we get insight and do it all through our oldest son. And so we feel plugged in and we feel we know a little bit. But I don't keep up with all this legislation (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...


G. BUSH: I love the majesty of the Oval Office, but I don't miss it. And because George is there, I can -- I can go there.

KING: Did you get involved in cancer because of your daughter? B. BUSH: Maybe. But a number of years went by. But it is, I think, one of the leading killers in our country, and it's preventable. And that's what C-Change is trying to do, is to talk people into not smoking, to eating well -- broccoli included. Into getting regular medical tests. I mean there are just -- a lot of our friends recently have gone with a backache and discovered they had a tumor.

We say to people, get checked. It isn't going to hurt you to get checked and you've got to do it. And take advantage of when they have the free mammogram van come by. Get on it.

KING: You're not kidding.

Many, many, many years ago, I guess it would have to go back to 1970, Richard Nixon, then president, declared war on cancer. Nothing much happened. Or maybe it did. We'll find out more right after this.


RICHARD M. NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We would not want to raise false hopes by simply the signing of an act. But we can say this -- that for those who have cancer and who are looking for success in this field, they at least can have the assurance that everything that can be done by government, everything that can be done by voluntary agencies in this great, powerful, rich country, now will be done.



KING: We're back at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston with the Bushes, the dearly beloved Bushes, who I think every American would say we sorely miss having you daily on the scene.

Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, said it's killed more people than any war.

What happened?

G. BUSH: Great strides have been made since Richard Nixon said that. And so there's a lot of success in it.

But the problem is, Larry, it's the scariest disease there is. It just scares people to death. And 1.4 million are going to get cancer this year. Half a million will die. The rate of survival is going up. More people are surviving from cancer and what the dedication of these doctors and nurses and great cancer centers like we're in -- and others, too -- inspires.

But the good news is, you talk to the best doctors here, and best professionals anywhere in the country, and they all say we can win this. We can do it. And we're making great headway on it through science, through research. And so it's -- the Cancer Society with John Seffrin, they've done a superb job. And I think there's a hopeful message out there, as well as a scary message.

KING: So it's right, Barbara, to be fearful?

B. BUSH: That's right. And I want first to tell you...

KING: That's logic.

B. BUSH: ... about the CEO roundtable that is absolutely fabulous.

G. BUSH: Well, C-Change -- I mean, with which you've been helpful. But it's a group that came together under the guidance of Lasalle Lefall, John Seffrin, head of the Cancer Society, Andy von Eschenbach, then who was head of the National Cancer Institute.

And C-Change brings together people from all walks of the cancer fight, all of them -- oncologists, the Nurses' Association, the doctors, everybody. And what -- what they've done is get these state cancer plans going, encouraging that.

What Barbara is talking about is something called the CEO Round Table, that Bob Ingraham was instrumental in starting. And that is to -- that is to encourage businesses to do the most they can for their employees in terms of knowledge of cancers, in terms of pre-screening of cancer, colonoscopies, mammograms, whatever, to lower the threat of cancer in their businesses.

And it's huge. It's an enormous thing that's happened. And they very...

B. BUSH: They're also working with families and they find that their employees stay longer, are harder workers. They're doing all sorts of things -- lunch with the CEO, instead of having lunch they'll walk or they'll have a lunch you pay for, or if you eat the healthy lunch -- broccoli -- why, it's free.

KING: It's very preventable, cancer, if you do those tests.

G. BUSH: That's right.

KING: Like a colonoscopy. Everyone should have a colonoscopy.

G. BUSH: That's right. The same for mammogram.

KING: Mammogram. You're going to pick up colon cancer and you're going to prevent it. Colon cancer is preventable.

G. BUSH: That's true. And I think that more and more people understand that...

KING: You do?

G. BUSH: ... and fewer and fewer people are scared of getting a colonoscopy.

KING: You lost Robin to leukemia.

Elizabeth Edwards, who's waging a battle against cancer right now, lost her teenaged son, Wade, to a car accident. In her book, "Saving Graces, " she talked about the strange gift that comes with the tragedy of losing a child. And she said -- I wonder what you think -- "I had the gift of knowing that nothing will ever be as bad. The worst day of my life had already come."

B. BUSH: Oh, I would say my reaction -- no question. That's true. But my reaction was I loved every person more because of Robin. I loved every child more. I value -- even you, Larry. I value everyone much more because of Robin. It took a little while to get to that, but that's what I feel about Robin.

G. BUSH: I certainly understand what she means.

B. BUSH: So do I.

KING: When she -- when you heard about leukemia, which is a cancer -- in fact, it's the number one cancer killer among children...

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: ... what did you think, back in 1953?

G. BUSH: Well, back in those days, one, I didn't know what it meant. I didn't even know what leukem -- the word, leukemia, meant. And I said to the doctor, what does this mean?

He said well, that -- it means probably she won't be alive for six months, right out of a clear blue sky.

I said come on. And so we -- we took her to a great cancer center, the Sloan Kettering --

B. BUSH: Sloan Kettering.

G. BUSH: ... Memorial Hospital. And my uncle, who was president of that hospital, said you don't have any choice. Our doctor down there said there's no point in treating her. You're -- it's -- it's, you know, it's hopeless. And...

KING: No treatment?

G. BUSH: ... so, anyway, we treated her and she stayed alive for a while. I think scientists learned something from her tortured little body and today she would still be alive if she got that kind of cancer.

So there is progress. There's great progress being made.

KING: You wrote in your memoir, Barbara, that: "After Robin was diagnosed, the doctor's advice was to tell no one, go home, forget she was sick, make her as comfortable as you could, love her and let her gently slip away."

B. BUSH: That's right.

KING: Now, that...

B. BUSH: George Bush told everyone.

KING: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) underscores how far we've come.

B. BUSH: George Bush told everyone before I got home to the house, practically, and had them come over to help. And we called the doctor and we -- we felt much better because we tried to do something. And we had hope. Now you...

KING: Now there's much more hope.

B. BUSH: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

G. BUSH: These kids in this hospital today, in that Robin Bush Clinic or wherever else they are, they have hope. And, now, there's obviously some cases that are hopeless. But that's...

B. BUSH: If they get in soon enough, though, 81 percent of them survive the five years.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: What did you make of Tony Snow's battle?

G. BUSH: Well...

KING: I saw him the other night.

G. BUSH: ... I've got to be careful because he's a good friend and I don't want to go over the top on it. But I really respect him. I think he's showing a lot of guts. He's a courageous fellow. And god bless him. But he's going to make it. I just have that feeling, because of his attitude he's going to make it.

KING: He's got a very positive attitude.

G. BUSH: Yes, he does. He does.

KING: Do you think that can work, Barbara?

B. BUSH: Um-hmm. I'm sure it can. And I think the doctors will tell you that that's not the only thing that works, but it's a big help to them if you've got a positive attitude.

KING: Is it still, Mr. President, the big C?

G. BUSH: Yes, it is. And it's the scary big C. But as I just told you, those statistics are just unbelievable -- 1.4 million new cases. A half a million will die. But the rate of recovery is so much better. The rate of improvement.

B. BUSH: Well, and they've gone -- it's steadily gone down over the years.

KING: We've made enormous strides.

G. BUSH: Yes.

B. BUSH: Absolutely.

KING: But it's still...

G. BUSH: It's still tough.

KING: ... that word.

B. BUSH: That's right.

G. BUSH: It's still tough. That's why we're counting our blessings for places like this.

B. BUSH: And that's why people have to do the right thing, too.

KING: We'll take a break.

And when we come back, Rene Syler will join us, the former co- anchor of CBS' "The Early Show."

The Bushes remain.

Don't go away.


KING: We're here in the Robin Bush Child & Adolescent Center, apparent of the Children's Cancer Hospital at M.D. Anderson in Houston.

How did this come about, Mr. President?

G. BUSH: Well, we were very honored that they named this clinic for our daughter Robin, who was afflicted years and years ago with leukemia, when she was almost four.

Had that kind of leukemia hit her today, she would -- no question she would be alive.


KING: We're back at the -- the wonderful Anderson Center here in Houston, Texas. It's also home of the Robin Bush Clinic and George H.W. and Barbara Bush, the 41st president and former first lady of the United States, remain.

We're joined by Rene Syler, the former co-anchor of CBS' "The Early Show." She's author of the new book, "Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting."

Both her parents had breast cancer. Earlier this year, she underwent a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. She's active with the Susan G. Coleman For The Cure Foundation.

Do you have cancer?

RENE SYLER, FORMER CBS ANCHOR: No, I don't have cancer. I've never been diagnosed with cancer. This was a prophylactic or a preventive procedure.

KING: Why did they do it?

SYLER: A mother and father with breast cancer -- my mother was diagnosed post-menopausal. She was one of the 200,000 plus women that are diagnosed every year.

But my father -- and whenever a man gets breast cancer, doctors are very concerned, because they shouldn't be getting breast cancer. And he was one of about 1, 500 or 1, 700 cases every year diagnosed in men.

In 2003, I was diagnosed with my own breast disease, hyperplasia atypia. And it's sort of the stage right before breast cancer. And so had four biopsies in four years and the last one was so disfiguring and so scarring. And I just said to my doctor, I don't think I can continue on this way.

KING: So you did it?

SYLER: I did it and it was not a decision that I made overnight. It wasn't something that I -- I rushed into. It was certainly not a decision I made alone. I talked to my doctor, to my husband, to my family and friends.

But those -- my family and friends and my husband were all the reasons I did it. I wanted to be around a long time.

KING: Are your parents living?

SYLER: My mother is. Yes, she's nine years cancer-free. She's doing great.

KING: Did your father die of breast cancer?

SYLER: No, he did not. He died of heart disease.

KING: Did you ever hear of male breast cancer?

B. BUSH: Yes.

G. BUSH: Yes, I've heard of it. I haven't...

B. BUSH: One of the members of C-Change was...

KING: Has it?

B. BUSH: ... was represented be he had had it.

KING: What was it like living with it, even with the parents? SYLER: Well, I remember, I was very young when my father was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I mean I was young enough to still be embarrassed by the word breast. I was probably 10.


SYLER: And -- and the thing I remember, Larry, was that he had a -- a radical mastectomy. So he had a huge scar from the -- that extended from under his arm all the way to almost his sternum. And, you know, he -- the doctor instructed him to do his exercises or he would lose his, you know, mobility. And he didn't do it and he lost some of that range of motion.

But I remember, yes, I remember being very frightened.

KING: There was, for a long time -- there's so many taboos with cancer. They told you don't talk about your daughter and...

B. BUSH: Yes.

KING: There was a taboo about breast cancer, wasn't there?

B. BUSH: I think so.

KING: The woman who had it wasn't supposed to say she had it.

B. BUSH: Well, I don't think she did.

G. BUSH: I think that was true of all cancers a while -- a while ago, when I was...

B. BUSH: People thought it was catching when we were little.

KING: That you could give it to someone else?

B. BUSH: Um-hmm.

KING: Did your parents openly discuss it?

SYLER: My mom did, because, you know, her cancer was just nine years ago. She talked about it. And by that time, I was already active with Coleman For The Cure.

My father -- and I think perhaps there still is a bit of a stigma associated with male breast cancer because it's -- it is rare and you don't think of a man getting breast cancer. So, no, he didn't talk much about it. But my mom did. And she -- and the reason I came forward and I was so open about it was because the -- I feel like the only way we're going to really make a difference in the fight against cancer -- all cancer -- is through education.

KING: When Nancy Reagan had it in 1987, there wasn't a lot of talk about it, was there?

B. BUSH: But I think people knew Nancy had it.

KING: Yes, but she didn't do a lot...

G. BUSH: But you're right, there wasn't a lot of...

KING: Was there a lot of talk in the White House about it?

G. BUSH: Oh, I think probably there. But I don't think she...

KING: And you were there (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

G. BUSH: Yes.

B. BUSH: Yes, I think we all -- we knew. But it -- you're right, there wasn't an awful lot of talk about it. I remember Raisa Gorbachev telling me that in Russia, they never would have mentioned that. She thought it was just terrible. I said to her, we think it's wonderful because it's telling other people that they should be tested and it's...

G. BUSH: There's hope and all this kind of stuff.

B. BUSH: ... there's hope.

KING: Why did we not mention it?

SYLER: Well, I don't know. I think that a lot of it comes from fear. I hear people that -- the remarks and comments I hear a lot are people saying yes, thank you for talking about this. Because my story is not so much about education but prevention. I did not have cancer. I -- this was a preemptive strike.

It was drastic, yes. It's not for everyone. But it was the right decision for me. And there are a lot of -- a lot of groups out there that are saying yes, you should -- we're so glad to hear people talking about it finally.

KING: Before you went under, wasn't there the -- any misgivings, saying why am I doing this?

SYLER: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. I had a sort of panic attack right before they wheeled me into surgery. And -- and then right as I was walking in, I remember just being terrified because I thought, you know, you're taking breast tissue that is ostensibly healthy and it's a gamble. It's a huge gamble.

But following the surgery, my doctor came in and said I want you to know that we found hyperplasia in the other breast -- not just the breast that had been giving me trouble.

So I would have been having mammograms and biopsies on the other breast, too.

KING: Have you ever had a problem, Barbara?

B. BUSH: Never.

KING: Do you have -- have you always had regular check-ups? B. BUSH: You bet.

KING: Do you do all your check-ups?

G. BUSH: Oh, yes.

KING: All of them?

G. BUSH: I do. Yes.

KING: No, I mean it's...

B. BUSH: Yes, we do. Both of us do.

KING: A lot of men are resistant, like they're afraid of colonoscopy.

G. BUSH: Colonoscopy. No, kind of look forward to mine.


B. BUSH: Two of our children had one this week.

What did you say?

G. BUSH: I said I kind of look forward to mine.

KING: He looks forward to his.

KING: It's another...

G. BUSH: They put you to sleep.

KING: It's another side of President Bush.

G. BUSH: Now, wait a minute. Don't -- I want to get that out (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

KING: We'll get to it on a later show.

G. BUSH: We did it right here in M.D. Anderson with a great doctor and the last thing I remember is telling a very funny joke and nobody laughed at and the next thing I knew, I was -- I had a clean one.

KING: Yes, it's -- it's...


KING: But it -- the bark is bigger than the bite. There's nothing to it.

B. BUSH: That's right.


B. BUSH: Two of our children had one this very week.

KING: The president? Did he have one?

B. BUSH: No, Neil and his wife went ahead and did it.

KING: The president does it, too?

G. BUSH: But this is routine now. It should have -- people never talked about it much before.


G. BUSH: You mentioned breast. Nobody talked about that. Nobody talked about cancer, per se. And so there's a certain awareness that makes it much better. And hospitals like this increase that awareness.

B. BUSH: I do agree.

KING: We'll take a break and be right back.

Don't go away.


KING: This is a typical room for a young kid?

G. BUSH: Yes.

B. BUSH: Well, it's great. Look at the color and the pictures. It's cheery looking at it here (ph).

KING: What do you hope this means for the parents?

G. BUSH: Well, I think it gives them hope that they could come to a, you know, delightful environment like this that's showing you hey, there's brightness and hope and cheer out there. And I hope it -- I hope that's the message we send. I think it probably is.


KING: We're back with the Bushes along with Rene Syler, former co-anchor of CBS's "THE EARLY SHOW," author of the book "Imperfect Parenting."

After Robin died, did you have greater fear for your other children, George who was alive and those who came along?

G. BUSH: Not particularly. I don't remember tying it in, do you Barbara?

B. BUSH: Well, I remember someone saying when one of our children had an appendix or something, saying, "Well, you shouldn't worry about that because, well, you know, the other was so much worse." I said, "Listen, you worry about every child, every sickness." KING: How old was George when Robin died?

B. BUSH: Six.

KING: Six?

G. BUSH: He was six.

KING: Was he fully aware of it?

B. BUSH: No.

G. BUSH: Not how sick she was.

B. BUSH: You can't tell a 6-year-old your sister is going to die.

KING: No, but when she died. How did he deal with death at age 6?

G. BUSH: There's a great story about how he was going to take care of his mother.

B. BUSH: He was so sweet. I was just shattered. George was sort of a sissy when Robin was sick. And I just broke so badly. And one day I heard George saying to Mike Proctor, his great friend in the neighborhood, "I can't come out and play, I have to play with my mother," to cheer me up. And that's when I got better. I decided to get better.

KING: That's really nice.

B. BUSH: Well, he is nice.

KING: Do you worry about your children?

SYLER: Yes, absolutely. You know my children's great fear was that their mother could die. And an interesting story, when I came back from the hospital and I had these, you know, drains that were sticking out from under my arms and this big industrial sized bra, and I was all bandaged up, my son said to me -- he's eight -- "You know, mom, I think you did the right thing." And I said, "Really, buddy, why?" And he said, "Because you know people can die from breast cancer." And I said, "Yes, if they don't catch it early, people can die from breast cancer." But I thought how remarkably perceptive for an 8-year-old boy to come up on that.

KING: It was long after Robin died, what got you so involved in the C-Change and all the rest?

G. BUSH: Well, I don't know how -- you never can figure doing enough, but I've been on the board of the M.D. Anderson since the mid 70's, late 1977. Both of us went on the board. And then when I cam back, they were very nice here. And I became chairman, a kind of rotating thing, and worked my way up to chairman of the hospital. And the more exposure I've had to the place, the more zealous I feel about being an advocate and the more optimistic I feel which is more important about beating cancer, about increasing life for people.

KING: Isn't the hardest thing to see a child with it?

G. BUSH: Oh, it's horrible.

KING: Blows my mind.

B. BUSH: I worked in Sloan-Kettering after Robin died, when George was at the U.N., but I couldn't work in the children's section. I could work in the adult section but not the children's section.

KING: Do you find yourself overly concerned with health, Rene?

SYLER: Not anymore.

KING: Are you a health whacko?

SYLER: I just had my last surgery, the final reconstruction about six weeks ago and I have not felt this good in years. Everybody asks, you know, how do you feel? I said, "I feel lighter." It's hard to describe, but I suspect that I had no idea how the specter of breast cancer just permeated every aspect of my life.

KING: How about the aspect of scarring?

SYLER: You know what, a scar, I can handle. I have a bit significant. And listen, these breasts are not like my real breasts. They don't feel the same. They don't move the same. They're not the same. But I won't -- while there's still a small chance I could develop a breast cancer, I had a special procedure called nipple sparing vasectomy, so you keep your own nipple and areola and they just take the breast tissue. And yes, there's still a chance but it's a small chance that I could develop breast cancer.

KING: Any sensitivity in the breast?

SYLER: No, not really. I don't have any feeling, no.

KING: Just a quick aside, how are your hips?

G. BUSH: Doing good.

KING: What did you get?

G. BUSH: Between Barbara and me, we have four new hips.

KING: That's all you can get, I think.

G. BUSH: We also only have 18 toes I might add.

B. BUSH: Stop it, now that's not fair.

KING: Who lost two toes? How did she lose two toes? G. BUSH: Not cancer. I don't know. They hurt her, so they just lopped them off.

B. BUSH: Well, one day a toe stepped up and went right over the big toe. And it did it on both feet. George thought it was very funny.

KING: So you had them removed?

B. BUSH: And my children think it's funny. Do we call her nine, they said at first. Now, we call her eight, they now say.

KING: When was the last hip surgery?

G. BUSH: January of this year.

B. BUSH: January 2.

KING: A couple months ago.

G. BUSH: Yes, pretty much.

KING: That's an amazing surgery.

G. BUSH: I'm doing pretty well. Oh yes, fantastic.

KING: No more pain?

G. BUSH: No, I'm just getting over it. I mean I still have a little recovery to do.

KING: What was it like for you?

B. BUSH: Great. I played golf in six weeks. Some people are stronger than others.

KING: Are you going to fly again?

G. BUSH: Sixty-two years of marriage, Larry.

KING: Sixty-two years and you still haven't figured out.

G. BUSH: No, I still have to -- yes, I'm going to fly one more time.

SYLER: Up to this point, I think it was 62 years.

KING: Are you going to jump out of a plane again?

G. BUSH: Yes, on my 85th.

KING: Eighty-fifth, which is?

G. BUSH: June 12, 2009.

KING: That's two years away. G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: You almost had me going with you once.

G. BUSH: Well, the invitation is still there.

B. BUSH: I don't think he...

KING: If my doctor says yes -- if he says -- no, the wife is -- if my doctor says yes, I'm going.

When we come back, a cancer specialist and an active person involved in the business end of getting rid of it. Don't go away.


KING: I can't tell you enough what a privilege it is for me to be here with the two of you...

B. BUSH: Oh, you're so sweet.

KING: ...with the naming of this because I feel like I knew your daughter.

B. BUSH: That just stretches her life and makes her go on forever.



KING: We're back on this extraordinary look at cancer in America with George H.W. and Barbara Bush, the 41st president of the United States and former first lady; Rene Syler, the former co-anchor of CBS's "The Early Show," author of "Good Enough Mother." And we're joined now by Dr. John Mendelsohn, M.D. and president of the University of Texas M.B. Anderson Cancer Center, internationally known clinician and laboratory scientist; and John Seffrin. John is CEO of the American Cancer Society. He lost both his grandmother and his mother to cancer. He is also a member to C-Change.

Why did you choose oncology, Dr. Mendelsohn?

DR. JOHN MENDELSOHN, PRESIDENT, M.D. ANDERSON CANCER CENTER: In 1970, when I was ready to pick a field to go into, it was just beginning to blossom and my research was on areas on how to control cancer cell growth. It just seemed a natural to combine my research and clinical interest.

KING: We've been discussing it. We've seen amazing advances, right?

MENDELSOHN: That's right.

KING: But still a long way to go. MENDELSOHN: I'd say the progress is phenomenal, but as we age as a country, we're going to have more and more cancer. Forty-one percent of Americans are going to get cancer in their lifetime, so we've got work to do.

KING: Forty-one percent of Americans will get cancer?

MENDELSOHN: That's right.

KING: And what percentage of them will get through it?

MENDELSOHN: The majority. When I was a youngster, it was 30 percent. The five-year survival date is now way over 60 percent. So there's progress. There's real progress.

KING: John, is CEO of the American cancer society a full-time post?


KING: Did you get involved in part because of your family?

SEFFRIN: Yes, in part. I was a volunteer for 20 years and an academic before I became CEO.

KING: And what do you think of the advances?

SEFFRIN: Incredible. I think the most important thing we can say tonight is that cancer today, for the first time, is potentially the most preventable and most curable of all the life-threatening diseases facing Americans today. Most people don't know that. There's extraordinary progress. We do have a lot yet to do. The disease is very prevalent but the fact is that the cancer mortality rates have gone down for 15 years in a row.

KING: Is it true that certain types of cancer, if they weren't in the picture, like pancreatic, cancer would be 95 percent beatable?

MENDELSOHN: Each cancer is different. But I think the thing to emphasize is what John Seffrin just said, prevention. And the most important statistic to me is that one-third of all cancers are due to the carcinogens in cigarette smoke. And if we all quit smoking, we wouldn't need to clone any more genes or build any hospital beds, we would cut out a third of all cancers and the public doesn't know that. Isn't that an amazing number?

KING: If you cut out smoking and...

MENDELSOHN: One-third of all cancers would not occur.

KING: You'd have to close some hospitals.

MENDELSOHN: It would be wonderful. If we get after Alzheimer's or something else.

KING: That's extraordinary. MENDELSOHN: It is.

KING: Smoking involves that much in the picture?

MENDELSOHN: That's right.

KING: Their daughter died of leukemia. What is leukemia?

MENDELSOHN: Leukemia is when white blood cells that are in the bone marrow become malignant and proliferate in an uncontrolled way and spread through the body. And they crowd out the normal bone marrow and eventually -- in the 1950s and '40s, a child or adult was lucky to live three to six months with leukemia.

KING: So it used to kill you? Why doesn't it kill children now?

MENDELSOHN: Some phenomenal research went on for a period of about four or five decades, systemically looking at new drugs. And today, combinations of chemotherapy can cure 81 percent of children with leukemia. And with adults now, we're up to 20 to 25 percent.

KING: How does that make you feel, Mr. President, sad or gratified? You might be able to be bitter and say...

G. BUSH: No, no.

KING: Why not then?

G. BUSH: No.

SYLER: It makes you feel good.

G. BUSH: It makes you feel very proud of these guys and the whole staff around here, these nurses that watch these little kids. Some of them die. How they do it, I don't know.

KING: What...

MENDELSOHN: Let me make a point and I think there's something different today than whenever you've done this program before. And that is we now have made enough progress, we know what we need to do to solve the problem early in this century. We've never known that before. We know the big things we need to do, redoubling our research efforts, promoting prevention into public policy, and providing access to quality care like you can get in this center. If we can do those three things, we can eliminate cancer as a major health problem early in this century. You can't say that about any other disease process.

KING: We'll be back. Don't' go away.

Coming up next week, we're celebrating my 50 years of broadcasting. Kicking off Monday with George Tenet, the former CIA director who told President Bush the WMD case against Saddam Hussein was a slam-dunk. Tuesday, the incomparable Oprah Winfrey joins me for the hour. Wednesday, Katie Couric turns the tables and interviews me. Thursday, a "CNN PRESENTS" special, 50 years of pop culture through my eyes and Friday, an all-star toast hosted by Bill Maher. What a 50 years it's been. What a week it's going to be.


KING: We're back with George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, with Rene Syler, with Dr. John Mendelsohn and John Seffrin.

Dr. Mendelsohn, are we ever going to see the day with the headline, "Cancer Cured."

MENDELSOHN: We're going to see lots of headlines, "More Cancer Cured." We're never going to get rid of cancer completely.

KING: Because?

MENDELSOHN: Because it's a foul-up of the normal mechanisms in our genes that control the growth of our bodies and there are too many chances that things can go wrong.

KING: Is it a civil war?

MENDELSOHN: It's a civil war between the normal cells and the bad cells.

KING: And we don't know why?

MENDELSOHN: We do know why. We do know that there's about 500 genes. The genome project told us there's 30,000 genes. About 500 of them control the proper proliferation of cells. Some of them control your hair color and your I.Q.

Of those 500 genes, if a half-dozen are not working right, the cell usually dies, which would be great. But occasionally, those five or six genes aren't working right, it's like the accelerator is stuck and the brakes aren't working and cancer develops.

KING: Is it tough to get money, John?

SEFFRIN: Yes and no. It's very competitive to raise money today. And a lot of money is going properly into disaster relief. But people are supporting us more than ever before because I think they see that the hopeful side of cancer has never been more hopeful.

We released a report from the National Academy of Sciences three years ago that pointed out that 60 percent of all cancer can be prevented during a normal human life span. So add to 30 percent from tobacco, another 30 percent, and if we can get behavior change and policy change, we can eliminate this disease. And what's more important, we can transform with the good science of John Mendelsohn so that it's not a lethal disease.

KING: Does it seem unfair to you, Mr. President, that the person who gets access to M.D. Anderson or Sloan Kettering gets that kind of treatment but a person living in Bupupank (ph), Iowa, can't?

G. BUSH: Well, I think there's a lot of injustice, a lot of unfairness in our society, but yes, if a person is out there and doesn't get any cancer treatment or education about it. But everything is getting better across the country on this knowledge. We have patients here from all over the state.

KING: I know. Patients come here from everywhere, right?


MENDELSOHN: We spread the word that the major cancer centers have gotten something to and they've written out guidelines that we distribute everywhere. And we do a lot of telephone consultations where we don't see the patient but somebody will call in and check. So I think the word is getting out as advances are made pretty quickly.

KING: Isn't it hard, Doctor, to be in a specialty where so many die?

MENDELSOHN: It's great...

KING: You're around death a lot.

MENDELSOHN: ... it's great to be in a specialty where you can create so much hope and where advances are being made every year where a patient with chronic myeloid leukemia had a life span of three years and today, a new drug has come along, which is curing some of these patients and adding dozens of years to others probably.

KING: So you don't have that sense of being around death a lot?

MENDELSOHN: Well, of course.

KING: It's so hard.

MENDELSOHN: I've seen a lot of death.

KING: You lose a lot of patients.

MENDELSOHN: We lose patients. And all I can say is part of being a doctor is spiritual. It's a like being in the ministry. And you not only are treating the disease, but you're relating to the person and their family and helping them to deal with this terrible problem.

SYLER: But you know what, Larry, can I say, I go to a number of these race-for-the-cures, the colon for the cure, and every year, you see more and more women wearing a pink hat that means that they've survived. They faced this cancer battle and they survived. I feel like it's amazing, when you look out and see this sea of pink hats.

KING: Does the black woman face bigger problems?

SYLER: In terms of diagnosis, yes, women of color are diagnosed less and die more of breast cancer. And part of that is they die more because with of late diagnosis.

KING: We've sped by but we're up to our remaining moments and we'll get to them right after this.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments. John Seffrin, the CEO of the American Cancer Society said something interesting during the break.

SEFFRIN: But basically, we've been following and tracking outcomes of how people do and there are differences because of race and ethnicity. But the single greatest predictor of whether someone lives or dies after they've been diagnosed with cancer is whether they had insurance at the beginning. And that has to do with access. We've got to find a way to provide timely access.

Everybody understands that cancer can be bitten. We have 10 million cancer survivors already, but you've got to catch it early and get good treatment. And the only way that happens is if you have got the union card and you have insurance.

KING: How many Americans are not insured.

SEFFRIN: Roughly 47 million Americans have no health insurance.

KING: Isn't that a fallacy, Mr. President? Something's wrong.

G. BUSH: That's right. Everybody is working to change it.

KING: You think it'll change?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Do you think so, Barbara?

B. BUSH: I hope so.

KING: You confident, Dr. Mendelsohn?

MENDELSOHN: I think the American...

KING: Or should we say that you're entitled to health?

MENDELSOHN: I think the American public are going to demand it, and both parties want it. We've got to figure out how to do it and fit it into our way of life. And it'll happen, I believe, in the next four years, yes.

SEFFRIN: And there's no reason we can't have it. We already spend twice as much per capita for health care in American than any country in the world and get generally modest to poor results. So we find a creativeness.

That's why, Larry, C-Change, is so important. It's brought to all three sectors together. You've got the private-for-profit sector, the not-for-profit sector and the governmental sector.

KING: How do people find out more about it? SEFFRIN: I think going onto the Web site of the C-Change, going onto our Web site and learn more about it. But it's a big problem, so no one sector alone can probably do it. I think you would agree, Mr. President and John. But if we work together, we can solve this problem.

KING: You're optimistic?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Now you're an optimist by nature though.

G. BUSH: Yes, I basically am, Larry.

KING: Are you optimistic?

B. BUSH: Yes.

KING: About this fight, are you?

SYLER: Absolutely. Earlier detection is where it's at. Yes, I'm very optimistic.

KING: Despite what you see a lot of?

MENDELSOHN: I'm very optimistic about prevention and early detection and better treatment. We're going to continue to make progress. I'm confident.

SEFFRIN: We'll solve the cancer problem early in this century if we do the right things.

KING: Do we learn a lot on work being done in other countries?

SEFFRIN: Sure. And it's getting better and better in other countries. We train lot of folks. We go back to Asia and to Europe too. And I would say that whereas in 10 years ago, almost all of the good work was coming out of the United States. There's a lot of good work coming out around the world now and we trade ideas.

KING: And how goes the Bushes? The storm hit your home in Kennebunkport.

G. BUSH: Yes, that can be done. It can be fixed. But no, it is. We're very blessed. I don't want to get political on this non- political show but we're very proud of our son and we're with him on everything. And you know there's plenty of room for disagreement but not with this one and not with me.

KING: When you disagree, it's strictly in-house?

G. BUSH: When I disagree with here?


B. BUSH: He tells the world when he disagrees with me. KING: With the president?

G. BUSH: Yes. Gosh, yes. If there were disagreement, nobody would know about it.

KING: Thank you all very much. Thank you, dear. Thank you so much.

SEFFRIN: Thank you.

KING: President George and Barbara Bush, Rene Syler, Dr. John Mendelsohn, and John Seffrin. We hope you appreciate it and we hope we've added to your knowledge. And we salute the Robin Bush Clinic here in Houston.


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