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The White House press secretary has suffered a recurrence of the colon cancer that he battled more than two years ago. It's unclear if he'll return to work. Tony Snow, who has been the president's spokesman for nearly a year, had surgery yesterday to remove a small growth on his abdomen. During the procedure, doctors found cancer which has spread to Snow's liver.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports that the news hit hard today at the White House because Snow has become not just the administration's public face but also one of its most important players.
DON GONYEA: On Friday, Tony Snow made an unexpected announcement that he would be undergoing surgery, saying he was doing it out of a sense of aggressive caution. It has been more than two years since the 51-year-old White House spokesman was treated for colon cancer, the same disease that took his mother's life when he was still in high school. For more than two years he's been cancer-free, but yesterday's surgery revealed what every cancer survivor fears. Snow himself broke the news to President Bush in a morning phone call.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: He called me from the hospital. He told me that when they went in and operated on him they found cancer. It's a recurrence of a cancer that he thought that they had successfully dealt with in the past. His attitude is one that he is not going to let this whip him, and he's upbeat.
GONYEA: The president said people should pray for Snow and his family. Since becoming press secretary last May, Snow has on occasion talked about what it means to be a cancer survivor. Just last Thursday, the day before he announced his own pending surgery, the subject of cancer arose at his daily briefing. This time it was the story of Elizabeth Edwards and how she and her husband, John Edwards, had decided to continue his campaign despite the return of her cancer. Snow said Mrs. Edwards was setting a good and powerful example.
Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): She's being aggressive. She's living an active life, and a positive attitude, prayers and people you love are always a very good addition to any kind of medicine you have. And so for Elizabeth Edwards, good going, our prayers are with you.
GONYEA: Today's news came as a shock to White House staff. Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino broke down in tears when she first revealed Snow's illness to reporters. Later in the day, she said she doesn't have answers to questions about his treatment or prognosis. She did say Snow was on top of the news and that he'd suggested some talking points on the Iraq war funding bill. She was asked whether Snow would return to work.
Ms. DANA PERINO (White House Deputy Press Secretary): I do know that Tony Snow loves this job. He says that it's the best job he's ever had in his life. He, in fact, has called it communications Disneyland. So he loves the job and I think his intention of course is to come back.
GONYEA: It is clear this is a job Snow has enjoyed. He's often combative, but he's also extremely comfortable at the podium and quick with a laugh, like this from January when a cell phone belonging to ABC News' Martha Raddatz started playing its hip-hop ring tone, interrupting his answer to a question.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SNOW: Does Martha have a hip-hop ring tone? Play that funky music, white girl.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GONYEA: Its hard to overstate the value of such a persona to this White House and to this second-term president beset by troubles at home and abroad. Snow now faces a round of intense therapy and his return is uncertain.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, The White House.
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