WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House spokesman Tony Snow, who survived colon cancer two years ago, reported on Tuesday that a growth surgically removed from his abdomen was cancerous and that the disease had spread to his liver.
Snow, 51, had surgery on Monday to remove a growth about the size of the tip of his small finger from his lower pelvic area. Tests confirmed it was cancerous.
“I’m gonna beat it again,” Snow said, according to deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino.
She said the cancer had spread elsewhere, including to his liver, and that Snow was consulting his doctors about an aggressive treatment likely to include chemotherapy.
“It’s hard news for us at the White House,” said Perino, breaking down in tears as she briefed reporters.
The news came as a shock to a White House that has struggled all year to gain its footing, faced with a Democratic rebellion against President George W. Bush’s Iraq war plan, and a controversy over the firing of eight U.S. prosecutors.
A somber Bush told reporters Snow called him from the hospital and told him the news.
“His attitude is one that he is not going to let this whip him,” Bush said. “And he’s upbeat. My attitude is we need to pray for him and for his family.
“I’m looking forward to the day when he comes back to the White House,” Bush said.
Snow, a former Fox News commentator, has been press secretary for nearly a year and loves his job so much he likens it to “Communications Disneyland.”
Snow was doing his best to take the disappointing news in his stride and Perino said he urged her to deliver a strong statement in support of Bush’s Iraq war spending plan, under siege on Capitol Hill.
Dr. Harmon Eyre, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said in an interview that the average survival time for people with such a diagnosis is a bit over two years.
“It’s obviously very serious,” Eyre said. “And for most individuals this would be a serious, fatal disease situation.” But Eyre said the possibility exists that the cancer could be surgically removed from the liver, enabling doctors to better control or even cure the disease.
Snow was in what doctors call Stage IV cancer in which cancer has spread to another organ.
His announcement came less than a week after Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced an incurable recurrence of the cancer that struck her in 2004.
“Tony has been an incredible example for people living with cancer and cancer survivors — he lives every day to the fullest and faces every challenge with courage and determination,” John Edwards said in a statement.
Snow has brought a fluid, graceful speaking style to the White House podium, enjoys sparring with reporters and often bats away critical questions with an affable air.
Snow had his colon removed in 2005 and underwent six months of chemotherapy. He recently passed the two-year mark since that took place and was pleased with his prospects.
But cancer, which his mother died of when he was 17 years old, is never far from his mind. He wears a yellow wristband in solidarity with other cancer survivors.
Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Tabassum Zakaria and Will Dunham