Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Larry King Live

The Death of Patrick Swayze

Aired November 18, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Patrick Swayze's wife, Lisa Niemi, on her husband's last days of courage and love and torment, battling a deadly disease in public. She said cancer took his life, but didn't beat him.

His brother, Donny, is here, too, revealing the true bravery only Swayze's family saw.

Plus, breast cancer survivor Sheryl Crow on the shocking advice from a government panel on mammograms. It's divided some doctors, angered some patients and left women asking, what do we do now?


Good evening.

Actor Patrick Swayze died in September at the age of only 57, almost two years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was married to Lisa Niemi for 34 years. She is a dancer, actor, director, producer and co-author of "The Time of My Life," written with Patrick.

And we welcome her to LARRY KING LIVE, with Patrick's younger brother -- an amazing look-alike, Donny. He's also an actor. In fact, he's just completed a Western, in which he played a villain.

There's nothing villainous about the Swayzes. I had the pleasure of knowing Patrick. And Patrick was scheduled to be on this show the night he went into the hospital with pneumonia.

You'd remember that, Lisa?


KING: He was supposed to be here that night. And I had the pleasure of welcoming him previously on another film. And he was a -- God, what a special guy. He was -- you look up special in the dictionary and you get a picture of Patrick Swayze.

NIEMI: Yes. Thank you.

KING: Now, you both wrote "The Time of My Life".

How did you come to write it?

Do you -- how does it work when you write together?

NIEMI: He -- well, I had been bothering him for over a year before that about putting down his thoughts in a book. I said, look, you know, I'll get a video camera, you just talk. I'll record it, you know. And so a lot of it is just recording and then shaping all of that stuff. And the book, it's very much written how he talks. And, of course, it's...

KING: Yes, it is.

NIEMI: ...a very, very candid, as only Patrick can be. And he is famous for being sometimes -- because sometimes you never -- you never knew what he was going to say.

KING: But your words are in there and your thoughts.


KING: And the editor had to put the -- balance all this together, right...

NIEMI: Oh, yes. Yes.

KING: make it two people.

NIEMI: Yes. There was -- there was -- there was a lot of great work that went into this book. And we were just thrilled with all the help that we received on it, because it was just first class.

KING: And I had the honor of attending maybe one of the greatest memorial services I ever saw. Of course, it was a tribute, as well as a memorial service.

NIEMI: Yes. Yes.

KING: How are you doing, Donny?

It's been two months.

DONNY SWAYZE, PATRICK SWAYZE'S YOUNGER BROTHER: Well, hanging in there. You know, right after he passed and we had the -- the memorial, it -- I guess I -- there was a little bit of a feeling that at least his pain -- his -- he's not in pain anymore. So I was -- I was...

KING: Happy for that?

D. SWAYZE: Happy that he wasn't in pain.


D. SWAYZE: But now -- now that and then I had this Western I went off and -- and filmed. I got...

KING: You went and did you a movie, right?

D. SWAYZE: I did. I got the -- you know, and at first, I wasn't sure I'd be able to. I thought it was too soon. But and then strapping on a gun and going to play the lead villain, it was a little therapeutic, I've got to say. I got to vent a lot of frustration.

NIEMI: He got to let it -- let it all hang out, I'm sure.

KING: How are you dealing with it?

D. SWAYZE: (INAUDIBLE) coming back.

KING: How are you dealing, Lisa, with it?

By the way, you don't call yourself a widow, right?

You call yourself a wife?

NIEMI: You know, I -- I, you know, either of those labels don't -- of course I'm still his wife and -- and -- but more than...

KING: Partner.

NIEMI: ...more than anything, you know, I -- he's always going to be in my heart. And that's the way it was, you know, when we were married also, you know, so.

KING: It was a real love affair. Great pictures in there.

NIEMI: Oh, thanks.

KING: Getting married in a dance studio. You two were poor.

NIEMI: Oh, yes. Well, we -- we managed to eat on $20 a -- a week. But that was -- but that wasn't so hard to do when you were dancing and weren't watching your weight.

KING: Tell me about pancreatic cancer, which is the killer name to people.

When they hear pancreatic cancer, what, 5 percent live, right?

NIEMI: Well, make it to five -- make it to five years.

KING: Five years.

D. SWAYZE: Only 5 percent make it to five years and...

KING: How did you...

NIEMI: And that's (INAUDIBLE).

KING: How did you learn it?

How did he learn it?

NIEMI: The -- well, you know, he was having some indigestion problems and then noticed he -- he had some jaundice. And we immediately got him in. And -- and everything just kind of snowballed from there. And I didn't know a lot about pancreatic cancer at that point, but he did. And when he got that diagnosis, the -- the first thing, unfortunately, because of pancreatic cancer, he said, "I'm a dead man."

And it's a really tough, tough, merciless disease, especially, you know, in the advanced stages, which he was diagnosed. And, of course -- and -- and someone was just mentioning about, you know, how hard it is to live, you know, with this knowledge and -- and fight this disease. But for us, every day, every week was a supreme victory.

So it wasn't like oh, my gosh, could we make it to six months?

It was damn, yes, we made it. You know, so it was very, you know...

KING: I was in -- I told you before we went on, I met his doctor, Dr. Hoffman...


KING: ...who -- who thought he was an amazing patient. I asked him, you have to pick up pancreatic cancer early so you can operate and it's like a 14 hour operation if you get it early.

I said, well, how do you spot it early?

He said you'd have to take a C.T. scan every week.

D. SWAYZE: Just about. You have to stumble into it.

KING: Did he deal with it bravely?

D. SWAYZE: It was unbelievable. I -- I wasn't with him when they -- when they first found out he had pancreatic cancer. But I came the next day when they were expecting the phone call finding out how bad it was. And I was there when he found out that it had, indeed, metastasized to the liver, which, as you know, that's...

KING: Yes, yes.

D. SWAYZE: ...that's even more of a death sentence. He -- I was looking in my big brother's eyes and he didn't even -- he didn't even flinch. He -- he just -- he -- I don't know what was going through his mind, but after about 15 seconds, his eyes narrowed and he said, well, it's time to -- time to jam, you know. It's time -- time to get busy.

And -- and it -- it was amazing. And -- and throughout the entire 20 months, he faced every roadblock with -- with -- it was amazing courage.

KING: Did he think, Lisa, that he could defeat it or was he holding on to just live as long as he could? NIEMI: But this is why we get treatment, you know. Because there's going to be that first -- one first person who has the kind of pancreatic cancer he had, which is adenocarcinoma at an advanced stage. There's going to be that first person that beats it. And this is why...

KING: He was going to be the first?

NIEMI: This is why -- why not?

Why not?

And so we always -- we called ourselves real -- realist -- realistic optimists. You know, it's just, we were -- we knew what a tough, you know, road we had ahead of us. And at the same time, we held out the best of hope that he could be the first.

KING: What did you feel inside, though?

NIEMI: Every day -- I love what somebody has said. Every day was like a -- a 911 emergency. This just -- you know, you were -- you were on call 24 hours a day, ready for anything. You know, you wake up ready -- ready to fight. And it's -- you know, and it -- it's a very tough...

KING: A lot of pain, right?

NIEMI: It's underneath it, you know. But for me, you know, I -- it was important to me that, you know, if I was going to cry, I'd go -- went and did it with my close girlfriends.

KING: That's what I meant, did you do that?

NIEMI: Yes. Out of -- out of his sight, when he did not know. But in his -- when he looked at me, I wanted him to know that he was going to be OK.

KING: Lisa's biggest regret is something she didn't tell Patrick nearly enough. And that's ahead.


KING: The book is a major bestseller, "The Time of My Life." The author, Patrick Sway -- the late Patrick Swayze -- it's hard to say that -- the late Patrick Swayze and his wife, Lisa Niemi.

By the way, your regret that we mentioned we were going to talk about, you didn't tell him you loved him enough?

NIEMI: You know, that's what it felt like. And I have to say, in the last almost two years he was fighting this, I -- I said it probably -- I can't tell you -- I lost count how many times that I would say that and...

KING: But before that, did you say to yourself, I should have said it more? NIEMI: I -- you know what?

And this is -- boy, especially after losing him, they -- you know, I regretted every bump we ever had in our relationship. I regretted every time I yelled at him. I regretted every mistake I made and wish I could go back and fix it.

And at the -- at the same time, it's, you know, and particularly like looking back at our whole life together, as we did in this book -- and, you know, I have to remind myself that when I look at that story, I'm also very proud of those bumps, because we always came out the other side and relationships are not easy.

KING: How close were you with him, Donny?

D. SWAYZE: We were very close. I was -- I'm six years younger, but he -- I always liked to hang along, little brother. When I was like six and he was 12, he would argue with his friends whether or not -- you know, he would say, "My -- Donny is coming with me."

KING: He did?

D. SWAYZE: Oh, no.

KING: He didn't push you away? SWAYZE: Oh, no. He took me with him...

KING: Most big brothers push little brothers away.


NIEMI: But, of course, if they were playing Tarzan, it was up to Patrick...

KING: Patrick won.


NIEMI: ...Patrick's discretion whether he was going to be boy or cheetah, you know, so...

D. SWAYZE: Depending on his mood.

KING: Yes.

D. SWAYZE: We liked to play super heroes who didn't have super powers, because we grew up in the dance studio with gymnastics and we had two trampolines and a swimming pool. So we liked it.

KING: What was it like, though, to deal, for both of you, the fact that it was so public?

A lot -- people get pancreatic cancer. That's terrible. And some of them live. Most of them die. But they don't read about it on the front page of the "National Enquirer".

NIEMI: Well, it certainly, made it very, very challenging. And...

KING: You had to hide out from people?

You had to go in three different cars, go to three different doctors, you know...

NIEMI: Right.

D. SWAYZE: You know, like grocery shopping at 7-Eleven corner store for two years because going into the grocery store was just too much, that they don't -- then in every checkout stand, they would have a big picture of my brother with some horrible headline with a lie -- a blatant lie that...


KING: Days to live.

D. SWAYZE: Oh. When he was -- had just started a new treatment and was -- needed to be hopeful and -- and -- and positive.

NIEMI: Oh, and if we do a list of how many organs he's had removed, because he had part of his lung removed, part of his stomach, part of his intestine.

What else did he have?

D. SWAYZE: He had a heart attack.

NIEMI: Heart attack.

D. SWAYZE: He had the -- and they said he was the -- then, after all that, he was climbing up on the roof of Cedar Sinai Hospital smoking marijuana with his little brother Donny. You know, what a guy, with one lung and one heart.


KING: When you read lies, don't you get angry?

NIEMI: Well, yes, but -- yes.

D. SWAYZE: Absolutely.

NIEMI: You do. But you just can't -- you can't believe that they can say this and get away with it.

KING: Patrick spoke to Barbara Walters about the fact that he was dying.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP from Patrick Swayze: The truth," courtesy ABC News)

BARBARA WALTERS, HOST: Are you scared? P. SWAYZE: I don't know. I'm being so -- either truthful or stupid as to say no. But then I immediately, when I say that, I have to say yes, I am.


KING: How was he -- scared or not?

NIEMI: Oh, he -- he -- he had his stark moments, that's for sure. He -- you know, he never talked about it too much, though.



KING: Were you with him when he died?

NIEMI: Yes. Yes.

KING: He died in the hospital or at home?

NIEMI: No, at home. And that was a -- that was a big decision, to bring him home. The -- there were -- some people were encouraging to keep him in the hospital, just simply because usually it's easier on the family.

KING: Were you there, Donny?

D. SWAYZE: Yes, we were both there. We were holding his hands.

KING: They say people die as they live. If -- if you were brave, you die brave.


KING: Did he die brave?

NIEMI: Oh, my God, very much so. And, you know, it's -- it's -- it's kind of -- Donny and I were talking about this. It's kind of hilarious because, of course, Patrick's played all these tough guys in movies and he's got the guns and he can do all the fighting and -- and you go, well, that's kind of actor tough. And Patrick is always saying how tough he is. And I go, yes, yes, that's the movies, honey.

But in reality, it's -- he blew me away. He really blew me away with his strength.

KING: Well, why?


NIEMI: His -- his strength and dignity and courage was -- I mean, because I...

KING: You knew he was going to die then?

NIEMI: Oh, he -- well, you know...

KING: I mean that -- that day, did he know?

NIEMI: I -- you know, even then, we didn't say it out loud. And I actually talked to a nurse about that. I said -- you know, I said, you know, we haven't really said -- because once -- once he was on -- on that journey out of this world, you know, it went pretty fast. And I asked the nurse, I said, you know, we haven't really talked about it and I haven't really said, you know, are we -- are we both looking at the same thing here?

And she said, trust me, he knows. He knows. And so we just (INAUDIBLE).

KING: We've got a great and timely Web exclusive for you. Julie Frishman is president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. She offers her thoughts on the death of Patrick Swayze.. You can read them at

Back with Lisa and Donny in 60 seconds.


KING: Patrick Swayze was in some of the most popular movies of all time.

Let's take a look back at a few of his famous roles.


P. SWAYZE: Nobody puts baby in the corner.

I'm telling you straight. It's my way or the highway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He likes to show off his muscles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm going to show them off on you, little buddy. You get him out of here.

P. SWAYZE: What a crock of...


Who are you?

What are you?

(INAUDIBLE) awake.

P. SWAYZE: You're awake.

I think tomorrow is a say something hat day.


KING: He thought he was going to be a dancer, right? NIEMI: What?

KING: He didn't know he'd be -- he thought he was going to be a dancer...

NIEMI: Absolutely.

KING: You would ballet dance together.

NIEMI: Oh, yes. Yes. When he -- that was his -- his first job leaving home was his as a dancer. And unfortunately, his -- or fortunately, depending which way you look at it, you know, a bad knee injury that he had previously pretty much put an end to that.

KING: Yes.

D. SWAYZE: He was once written up in "Dance" magazine as the strongest male dancer in the United States and they compared him to the Bolshoi dancers.


KING: Whoa.

When Patrick was on this show in 1992, we talked about how his movies was received -- were received by critics.



P. SWAYZE: Critics pretty much, I think, they're on the level of amoebas. The ones that have been around for 15 or 20 years, because they're obviously jaded and cynical. And so I'm not interested in reading...


P. SWAYZE: Yes, because, you know, like they didn't -- they -- they destroyed "Amadeus." Look what it did. They destroyed "Ghost." Look what it did. They destroyed "Dirty Dancing," two movies in my life. And look what it did. You know, so I don't put much credence in what they say.


KING: Straight up, Patrick Swayze. The book, "The Time of My Life."

We'll be back right after this.



P. SWAYZE: I have a tendency a lot of times with me, when I -- when I get the emotion, you want to play the emotion. And that's not what we as people do. If anything, we go to the ends of the Earth to not allow that emotion out. And that's what rips an audience's heart out or makes you care. It's not a self-indulgent actor who's out there crying in his breast.


KING: That was a wonderful interview, by the way.

Patrick's doctors told him he didn't have a good chance of living very long.

Let's listen to him describe how he felt when he heard that news.


P. SWAYZE: When my doctor at Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles said the words "pancreatic cancer," a single thought pop into my mind -- I'm a dead man. That's what I had always thought when I heard someone had pancreatic cancer. I mean, usually it turned out to be true. My doctor told me that my chances of surviving for more an few months weren't high and I had no reason to doubt him.


KING: How on Earth did he do "The Beast," which -- you directed one of the episodes, right?


KING: You were with him when he did a lot of those.

NIEMI: Yes. It -- it's...

KING: How did he do that?

NIEMI: Well, it's -- it's amazing because it was up in the air for quite a long time before they started shooting it, whether he was going to be able to. And the doctors and the studio -- A&E and Sony were incredible during the whole process. And when his -- his prognosis came back good, he was responding to chemotherapy, they said, let's go ahead full steam.

And it's really interesting because up until he went to shoot the series, which is brutal. It's -- it's -- there wasn't a day that was less than 14 hours -- sometimes much, much over that. And -- and where he had gone from being pretty sedentary, all of a sudden he's putting forth this enormous energy that's just bursting. And it's -- I'm looking at him like what, it's like a whole different person. And it's this -- we got...

KING: How do you explain it?

NIEMI: You know, I think, it's that performer's adrenaline.

KING: Yes. NIEMI: And when he has it -- the same thing when he did the audio book for this. He -- he did the audio book, what...

D. SWAYZE: He did it three weeks before he died. The crew -- the crew on "The Beast," they didn't know he was suffering as bad as he was. He -- they thought he was in remission. And he -- that was the way he wanted it.

NIEMI: God, that was a play (ph).

D. SWAYZE: And like she was saying, he did this audio cassette. He read this entire book three -- two or three weeks before he died.

And -- and in August alone, he was in and out intensive care three times. In between the second and third time, he -- he did four or five 12 hour nights and read that entire book.

NIEMI: And -- and it wasn't like he was, you know, suffering doing it. You know, he'd have a hard time getting down there. And we'd go and check on him...

D. SWAYZE: Oh, yes.

NIEMI: ...later on.

D. SWAYZE: I made him a protein shake one night and was taking -- and I was feeling a little peeved that, you know, all the task masters, they've got him, you know, down there...


D. SWAYZE: ...all night doing this. The poor guy was so sick he could barely walk to the recording studio. And then I went down and I peeked through the window and he was this vibrant self, like two years ago. And he was -- he was -- he was up on his haunches and he was reading it with passion. It was unbelievable.

NIEMI: He's just -- he had this mind over matter.


KING: Did you like directing him?

NIEMI: Oh, it was -- it was so fantastic. It was such an honor. And -- and he was -- he was just a doll.

KING: Was he a believing man?

Did -- did he -- did he believe in God?

Did he...

NIEMI: You know, most of -- his beliefs are very kind of more -- are Eastern-based. You know, he -- he believed that all great religions point to the same truths. But, you know, as far as, you know, and it's -- and it's kind of hard. I think it's easier, sometimes, when you do believe in a very set thing...

KING: You would think.

NIEMI: ...because you go this is where I'm going to go when you die.

KING: Did he believe...

NIEMI: ...when I die.

KING: ...he was going somewhere?

NIEMI: He -- he didn't know, you know?

Of course he does now. But, yes. But I think, in some ways, it's easier to believe. But -- but if you really pinpoint those people do they really know, you don't know until you're there.

KING: Do you ever feel his presence?

D. SWAYZE: Not yet. No.

KING: That might come.

D. SWAYZE: You know, it was interesting, I didn't feel his presence leave when he died so I didn't -- I don't know how to explain it.

KING: Maybe he hasn't left yet.

D. SWAYZE: Maybe that's what it is I think.


KING: What's your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

We want to know.

That's tonight's Quick Vote question. Go to to answer it.

We're back with Lisa and Donny. The book is "The Time of My Life".

And still coming, a major discussion about the mammogram issue.

Don't go away.


P. SWAYZE: There's my relationship with Lisa. I can't even begin to express what she has meant to me over the years. Lisa and I are a part of each other. I can no more imagine life without her than I can imagine living without my own heart.


KING: This, by the way, is a terrific book and one of the surprising revelations in it is that after being together more than 30 years, you packed a few suitcases and left. And the media never knew.


KING: Was it over drinking?

NIEMI: Yes. I think, for the most part, because, I mean -- like I think everybody pretty much knows what an amazing guy he is. But, you know, alcohol can do some pretty bad things to people.

KING: How long were you apart?

NIEMI: A year. A year.

KING: Hard?

Was that hard?

NIEMI: It was very -- very hard. Of course, I was only about 15 minutes away and we talked every day and saw each other on most days. And -- and -- but, you know -- but at that point, you know, I didn't feel like I had much of a choice. And -- I had -- really had to be willing to lose the relationship. And to his credit, you know, things turned around and when we did get back together, you know, we had some -- still had rough bumps and everything. It was really good we did because it was better than ever.

KING: You were telling me before the break, you still have the ash.


KING: Are you going to spread over the ranch? That was his wish, right?

NIEMI: Yes -- that's -- yes. Yes. He mentioned that. Also, it was hard to get anything about any kind of wishes he would have after he died because we never -- we never -- we were always --

KING: Pessimistic.

NIEMI: Exactly. We didn't want to talk about the negative stuff. Yes, the ranch and also there is particular mountain in New Mexico that I get to look at frequently.

KING: You acted after he died, you did this western. Right?


KING: How did it affect you when you acted?

D. SWAYZE: Well, I was playing a bit of a monster of a character. I put the full force of everything I was feeling. All the pain of -- you know, having to drive my brother to his chemo treatments and dodging paparazzi on the way. And then cash to lose my best friend and mentor. I just put it --

KING: When does the movie come out?

SWAYZE: I think March. They are talking about - it's called "Heathens and Thieves." They will circulate it.

NIEMI: Spoken like a good actor. He uses the pain for something constructive.

KING: That's what you do.

D. SWAYZE: I did. Maybe some of the crew members wished I was easier to deal with on the set.

KING: John Kennedy said life isn't fair. Obviously it isn't. Are you bitter? Why did it happen to us?

NIEMI: You know -- someone asked me am I angry yet. I said no. But it is a coming. I can feel it. I have -- I have since then touched on that. There's been cynicism that's definitely come up.

KING: What about you, Donny?

D. SWAYZE: I just miss him terribly. You know, I -- everything I do, I mean, we did so many things that were similar.

KING: I speak for all of us when we say we all do.

D. SWAYZE: Thank you.

NIEMI: Thank you.

KING: The book is Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi, "The Time of My Life." If you want more information about pancreatic cancer or make a donation to the Patrick Swayze Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at Stanford University, go to our blog at

Nest, the great mammogram controversy. Breast cancer survivor Sheryl Crow and others tell us what it could mean for you. Stick around.


KING: A federal advisory board, the U.S. preventative services task force put out new mammogram guidelines that caused quite a storm of controversy. They say that the most women don't need mammograms in their 40s. And that starting at age 50, women should have mammograms every other year. To discuss this here in Los Angeles, Sheryl Crow, breast cancer survivor, new CD out, reissue of an old CD, "Tuesday Night Music Club Deluxe Edition." I have it right here. It ain't going to get out of my hands. Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical office of the medical society, oncologist. Opposed to the new recommendations. Dr. Lisa Masterson is an ob-gyn. She is co-host of "The Doctors." Her mother died of breast cancer. She's opposed to the new regulations. Appearing in favor of them in Washington is Christine Brunswick. She is vice president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, a breast cancer survivor and she agrees with the task force findings. Before we get under way, we did try to get a task force representative from the force themselves. They declined to appear. Lots of confusion. What do you make of this, Sheryl?

SHERYL CROW, SINGER: I think it is confusing. I think it's very divisive. I was diagnosed in -- when I was 43 in 2006. We know that cancer grows. It doubles in size every three to four months. If you are talking about someone who is 50 and not having mammogram but every two years, two years in there can mean the difference between stage two one and stage three. In my case, my having waited from 43 to 50, I would certainly have been --

KING: What do you make of this, doctor? They are not crazy, these people, right?

DR. OTIS BRAWLEY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: I have tremendous respect for the task force. I think they made a mistake. The American Cancer Society believes that women should start screening when they are 40 years of age. They should get a high quality mammogram every year. It is true that mammography is not a perfect test. But right now it is the best test that we have. If we get anything from this, we need to work to find a better test. Women deserve a much better test.

KING: Christine, a man might put this -- when prostate cancer became a question, should you take the PSA and false-positives, what on earth is wrong with taking it? So you take it. Let's say it is a false-positive. Then you get the news it is a negative and you feel good. What is the argument against it?

CHRISTINE BRUNSWICK, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL BREAST CANCER COALITION: There are harms to having -- being diagnosed with breast cancer when, in fact, you don't. There are biopsies that take place, scarring of the tissue that make future mammograms more difficult to read. Women deserve to know the truth about what works and what doesn't about breast cancer. And it is really not so shocking that these recommendations came out from the task force because it has been known for quite a while that there really isn't enough evidence to recommend screening for women from 40 to 49 as a public health measure. The recommendations say that women who are at high risk or have different values should consult with their doctors. But what we are talking about here is a public health message to women.

KING: How old were you when you were diagnosed?

BRUNSWICK: I was 38.

KING: Did you have a mammogram?

BRUNSWICK: I did. And it didn't show --

KING: Still you are in favor of these recommendations even though you were shown at 38? BRUNSWICK: Not by a mammogram. I had a mammogram three months prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer. And the tumor was 2 1/2 centimeters large which is quite large in which you think would be picked up on mammography. But the fact is that women in their late 30s and 40s have very dense breasts. Mammography does not work as well in those age groups. The younger you are, the less effective mammography is.

KING: Dr. Masterson, she pointed out what the task force is saying. What's wrong with that argument?

DR. LISA MASTERSON, OBSTETRICIAN/GYNECOLOGIST: The argument is this will cost women's lives. We are looking at women from individuals as gynecologists and as, now, a woman that's had a mother that died from cancer, we know -- even in the task force it says mammography will actually decrease the risk of breast cancer in that age group. But it is smaller than in the 50 age group. You are talking -- still talking about women's lives. This is tantamount to rationing care. All of us have been on the frontlines in this war against breast cancer. This is going to confuse women and it is going to confuse doctors. And it is only going to give the insurance companies a voice to be able to say no, you can't have this screening.

KING: In that regard, the HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, said today that the federal advisory board's recommendation is not government policy. But she is not flatly rejecting the recommendations. Hear is what she told Wolf Blitzer.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: It shouldn't be dismissed. It is a piece of information. There are other groups that disagreed with this information. But I think women need to be informed health consumers and take the information, take a look at their own situation. But then have that very important discussion with their own provider. The provider is who should make the recommendation of how often to get tested and how often to get screened and what age to start. We want to make sure all women have that opportunity.


KING: Sheryl, do you think insurance companies are now going say we won't pay for this?

CROW: I think they have strong grounds to say that. My concern with that is that you have women who don't have the luxury of going in and having a conversation with their doctors. Many women in this country are not insured. And they don't have the luxury of setting up an appointment and saying do I get a mammogram or not? A lot of women -- if they get mammograms will go to a free mammogram clinic. That is -- we don't want to discourage women getting mammograms just because they can't go have a conversation with their doctors. We are talking about tests that -- they took 1900 women and decided over 50 that one woman was diagnosed and 1300 women under 49. What we are talking about here are -- not a balanced study. KING: Is it a painful test?

CROW: It is not fun.

MASTERSON: Not as painful as being diagnosed with breast cancer and getting chemotherapy. That's what they're saying. The risks outweigh the benefits. If you tell a woman I want a mammogram so I don't die of cancer.

KING: But Christine says there are bad aspects.

MASTERSON: They didn't look at digital mammography. One of the better things for women, dense breasts, the younger group. Digital mammography costs more than the regular mammography.

KING: I don't want to stack up against Christine. We did invite the task force to come on and they declined. CNN's own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is not happy with the new recommendations. Back in 60 seconds with him.


KING: Dr. Sanjay Gupta our man around medicine. He is a brain surgeon. He knows everything there is no know about everything, it seems.

What do you make of this, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it is poorly conceived, ill thought out and terribly implemented in a nutshell. There are so many things about this and I have been thinking about this for the last couple of days now. One of the things that's really striking I think both Sheryl and Dr. Brawley talked about this is that there really is a valuation being placed on life here. You save one life for every 1900 mammograms for women between the ages of 40 and 49, one life for every 1300 mammograms, 50 to 59 years old. It is not that much different yet it is not being routinely recommended between the ages of 40 and 49. I thought what was most stunning they say, you know, we are not recommending routine mammograms. We suggest you have a conversation with your doctor ahead of time. I'm a doctor. Dr. Brawley is a doctor. Dr. Masterson. What we would tell our patients is that 75% to 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer didn't have a risk factor. They didn't have a family history. They didn't have a risk factor. Where does that leave them now? Should they still get the mammogram? I think most doctors will continue to say yes. I think this confused people and women who are already sort of wishy-washy about getting a mammogram may be less likely to get some. People who are -- if this starts affecting coverage, women that live near the poverty line are going to be less likely to be able on get one if they want one. There's so many issues with this overall.

KING: You challenged a member of the task force today, I understand.

GUPTA: I did. You know, I asked a lot of the same questions. I know they tried to get at what was the genesis of all of this. This is the same data that was evaluated a few years ago at which point the recommendation was women should get mammograms every year starting at the age of 40. Essentially the same data that was looked at and -- you know, five, six years later now. They are saying women should start getting mammograms every other year starting at the age of 50. The same data and wildly different conclusions. As Dr. Brawley points out, other organizations look at the same data and arrive at different conclusions. You know, it is -- it is confusing.

KING: And you have added to it. But you have also cleared it up, as always. You are right on the money. Men face the same thing in the prostate cancer tests, don't they?

GUPTA: I think so. Look, you know, not all tests are perfect by any means. Screening tests is just that. It is a screening test trying to find cancers early. So -- you know, you would like to have better tests and you would like to have the perfect test to give to the right person at the perfect age. We don't have that. Mammography is the best thing we have right now. For it not to be confusing I think what most doctors are saying -- this is what I have been hearing as we've been reporting on this, is that the continued giving the mammograms starting at age 40 every year. I think that makes it as less confusing as possible in the midst of all of this, Larry.

KING: That sounds it to me. Thanks, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Back with our panel in a moment. Kiss's Peter Kris has written a blog exclusive for us about his battle of breast cancer. We encourage men and women to read it.


KING: Back with our panelists. Check with Anderson Cooper. He'll host AC 360 at the top of the hour.

What leads tonight, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we have breaking news leading tonight. The Senate Democrats unveiling their health care plan. We are going tell you what's in the bill, just how congress plans to pay for it, the world politics tonight.

And a "360" special investigation, Larry, killings at the canal the army tapes. Three army sergeants convicted of murdering four Iraqi detainees. One of the sergeants confesses on tape and we will show it to you. Was it murder as the courts declared or battlefield justice? You can decide for yourself.

Also tonight, Sarah Palin kicking off a book tour, weighing in on the Nidal Hasan case. She says she supports profiling of her explanation. I had James Carville and Ralph Reid weigh in. Those stories and a lot more ahead Larry on "360."

KING: That's "AC 360" 10 eastern, seven Pacific.

All right, Christine Brunswick, vice president National Breast Cancer Coalition, you pretty much heard what the panelists are saying. Are you up against it here? Because the task force says they don't want their recommendations to be misinterpreted. What do you think?

BRUNSWICK: That's right. I would like to correct something that was said earlier, that the task force came out with these recommendations because there was new data. There was a study that came out of the UK with 160,000 women with women between the ages of 40 and 49. They followed them for ten years, half of the them received mammograms, the others did not. After ten years, there was no change in the death rate from breast cancer between those two groups. That's was part of what this task force was considering as they revised their recommendations. This is very --

KING: Do you want to comment? Go ahead, finish.

BRUNSWICK: This is very reminiscent of some other analogies that have happened in breast cancer in the past. What comes to mind is hormone replacement therapy that women for many years were told to take hormone replacement therapy, that it would help their heart. And all these benefits without any evidence, without it being grounded in science. Finally, we got the answers from science, that in fact not only did it not benefit women, but it caused harm and it caused breast cancer. So when women were given the truth, based on scientific evidence and able to make informed decisions, we all benefited from that. And I believe strongly that this is the case here.

KING: Dr. Brawley?

BRAWLEY: The British study, keep in mind, they were highly critical. This task force was highly critical of the British study because it did not actually report compliance rates. The task force, unlike in the mid 1990s when we had this discussion, the task force this time concludes that it is highly likely that screening decreases the risk of death for women in their 40s by 15%. They go on to say that the absolute death reduction is not worthwhile. They said it takes 1,900 women screened to save one life. They concluded 1,340 was a good number, 1,900 was too much.

KING: Dr. Masterson, are you saying to women in their 40s have a mammography how often?

MASTERSON: Every year just like Dr. Gupta. We know that saves lives. You cannot reduce women to numbers. These are mothers, sisters, daughters, if you look at them and you diagnose them every year and you know that early prevention is the key, we know that's the key to it and we have the mammogram and that's the only screening tool we have, far be it the best one, we know we still need to have something else. You cannot give the insurance companies a way to make it so that women who cannot afford mammograms cannot benefit from screening at all.

KING: A congresswoman has something to say about it. That's when we come back. Don't go away.


KING: This recommendation comes at a bad time for Democrats in the white house trying to get health care reform passed. Listen to Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: This is how rationing begins. This is the little toe in the edge of the water. And this is where you start getting a bureaucrat between you and your physician. And as we have gone through this health care debate over the past several months, this is what we have warned about. Once you get on that slippery slope.

KING: The HHS secretary says this is not government policy, as we mentioned. You talked about self-exams during the break. That's more important than mammography?

CROW: Yes, most women are diagnosed by finding something in their breasts. The old card how we were taught to give a self- examination is really gone by the wayside. It's about knowing the terrain of your breast. If you find something that's unusual, visit your doctor then. It's not about the scare tactics of analyzing every tiny little change in your breast. It's about knowing the terrain of your breast and what seems different.

KING: Is that more important than mammograms?

BRAWLEY: I believe it is. Knowing your breast, knowing your body, knowing if there's a change is so important. 2/3 of women in their 40s who are diagnosed with breast cancer are diagnosed the way she just said.

KING: Would you agree with that?

BRUNSWICK: I do agree with that, yes. I do agree with that.

KING: Would you agree Dr. Masterson?

MASTERSON: I agree. The task force wanted the self-breast exam to go away.

KING: Why?

MASTERSON: They said it wasn't picking up as much breast cancer. The thing is, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology still advocates that.

KING: You were going to say something, Christine?

BRUNSWICK: What Sheryl described was not breast self-exam. So a woman should know and understand her body and go to her doctor if she sees any change, absolutely. But that is not breast self-exam.

BRAWLEY: A breast self-exam has traditionally been setting aside one day per month to do a regimented examination. This is in some ways continuously looking at one's breast. Every day when one takes a shower, being aware of one's breast, that's the type --

KING: If you're a 43-year-old woman, if you are having regular sexual relations or not has no place. But if you're a 43-year-old woman watching this show, are you more confused than before we started?

BRAWLEY: I would hope that that 43-year-old woman would be getting a breast exam performed by a physician, nurse practitioner every year.

KING: Christine, you would say what to her?

BRUNSWICK: I would say to her that she could consult with her doctor, and that she could understand the limitations of mammography and not walk away with a false sense of security.

MASTERSON: The only thing about this, is that, again, there will be the potential for the insurance companies to say that they will not cover the screening and that could be the biggest downfall of this.

KING: The breast cancer problem continues, it's a major problem in the United States?

CROW: It does. This makes it more confusing. This really does make it even foggier.

KING: Thank you very much. We'll do more on this. We had announced previously that Tomei Tomei the mystery person in the Michael Jackson relationship was going to be with us tomorrow night. He's had a dental problem, so he will be with us on Thursday night December 3, two weeks tomorrow. On Friday, we're dancing with the stars. Right now we're dancing with Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" -- Anderson?