WASHINGTON – When President Bush asked Tony Snow to become his press secretary last year, Snow didn’t agree until his doctors told him there were no signs of the colon cancer for which he had been treated in 2005.
Based on that assurance, he accepted one of the most demanding jobs in Washington.
But early Tuesday morning, Snow told Bush that the cancer had returned – and had spread to his liver and elsewhere.
The report of the recurrence saddened the White House staff, which has come to count on the former Fox News commentator to convey the administration’s views to an increasingly skeptical public and, as the personable face of the White House, to defend it against daily challenges from the Democratic Congress.
“He is not going to let this whip him, and he’s upbeat,” Bush told reporters in the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday morning.
The disclosure of Snow’s diagnosis followed Thursday’s announcement that Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential contender John Edwards, was about to begin treatment for a recurrence of breast cancer, even as she and her husband continued to campaign.
Snow’s response that day was emotional: “As somebody who has been through this, Elizabeth Edwards is setting a powerful example for a lot of people, and a good and positive one,” he said.
The next day, he announced he was undergoing surgery Monday for a small growth in his abdomen. All tests were negative for cancer, he told reporters, but he was having it removed “out of an aggressive sense of caution.”
On Tuesday morning, Snow’s deputy, Dana Perino, paused to regain her composure and dabbed at her eyes as she revealed her boss’s condition just moments after speaking with him.
The doctors found “that the growth was cancerous and there has been some metastases, including to the liver,” she said later at a televised news briefing. White House officials have not said where Snow is being treated.
Snow’s staff and outside medical experts said recovery from the surgery alone would take at least four weeks. He will have chemotherapy as well, Perino said.
Recalling Snow’s kind words about his wife last week, Edwards issued a statement Tuesday praising him as “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.”
Snow and his wife, Jill, have children ages 10, 11 and 14. In February 2005, after he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, surgeons removed his colon and reconstructed his small intestine to replace it.
About 60 percent of patients with stage 3 colon cancer survive five years after initial treatment, Dr. Harmon J. Eyre, the chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said in a statement.