White House Spokesman Snow's Cancer Returns

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow's cancer has recurred and spread to his liver, the White House says. Snow had taken a three-week leave for surgery to remove a growth that was not previously believed to be cancerous.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The White House announced this morning that Presidential Spokesman Tony Snow's cancer has reoccurred and spread to his liver. Speaking this hour, President Bush told reporters that Tony Snow called him from the hospital.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: His attitude is one that he is not going to let this whip him and he's upbeat. My attitude is, is that we need to pray for him.

MONTAGNE: The president and Tony Snow had taken a three-week leave for surgery to remove a growth that was not previously believed to be cancerous. David Greene covers the White House for NPR and joins us now.

And, David, what do we know about Tony Snow's condition?

DAVID GREENE: Well, I'll back for a moment, Renee, Tony Snow had colon cancer in 2005, and he had his whole colon removed and endured months of chemotherapy, and really thought that he beat the cancer at that point. And he then came to reporters this past Friday in his - in the briefing room at the end of the briefing, and he said that there was a new growth in his lower abdomen, in the pelvic area. But then initial tests were pretty optimistic. They thought that it was non-cancerous, and Tony Snow sounded pretty upbeat, even joking a little bit, I think we have a little tape of him here.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): Please do not lead to conclusions about this because we don't know what this is. We know it's coming out and I know I'll be back soon, and I'll miss you each and every day, especially when I'm sore and filled up with up drugs.

GREENE: But then this morning, Dana Perino, the White House deputy press secretary, came in to let us know that the doctors did the surgery yesterday -found that the growth was indeed cancerous. The cancer had returned and that it has actually now spread to Tony Snow's liver.

MONTAGNE: Obviously, not the kind of news that anyone wants to hear. Is there any word at this point on his prognosis?

GREENE: We don't know much yet. What the White House is telling us is that Snow is still in the hospital. The surgery was successful and that there were no complications but that he's now consulting with his doctors, and the White House is just saying that he's going to go after this aggressively and that he's determined to beat it again; but a lot of conversations now between Tony Snow, his doctors and also Tony Snow's family.

MONTAGNE: Indeed, it sounds that this comes as a surprise to people at the White House?

GREENE: It did seem to come as a surprise. People at the White House seemed very shaken. They seemed a little tentative when Tony Snow is going in for this surgery, but pretty optimistic, I think, they were taking their cues from him. But then this morning, people were just look awful and Dana Perino, the deputy press secretary, she broke down during the early morning gaggle with news reporters when she told them the news of Tony Snow's surgery. And she tried to keep composed and she said that she had spoken with Tony Snow from the hospital, and that he seemed in good spirits and actually he was trying to offer her some talking points to bring to reporters about the news of the day, but she was visibly, visibly shaken.

MONTAGNE: Now this comes - this news comes just days, really, after Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, announced that her breast cancer had returned, and Tony Snow at time spoke quite eloquently in support of her.

GREENE: Yeah, this was last week, and it was really coincidental that these two, you know, pretty prominent people came out and talked about their cancer. And Tony Snow was asked about her in that briefing when he spoke about his own condition, and it was one of those moments, Renee, where politics just seemed to disappear. And Tony Snow, you know, the cancer survivor himself, said that he just admired Elizabeth Edwards courage. I think we have a little bit more tape of him here.

Mr. SNOW: Once you decide that you're going to embrace life, you become a much better patient. And once you decide that you proceed with a sense of hope and optimism, people are going to rally to your side and they do, and it's a truly wonderful thing.

GREENE: And that's the message that Tony Snow has always said, you know, from his very first briefing when he came to the White House, he spoke about his cancer, he lost mother to cancer, and just really tried to keep an upbeat and optimistic attitude.

MONTAGNE: Any sense whether or when Tony Snow will be back?

GREENE: That seems the big question right now, and reporters were asking that. And Dana Perino, the deputy, basically said that he wants to come back, he intends to come back but that there's just no answer to that at this point.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks.

GREENE: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

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