The NBC News Senior Correspondent, 79, was diagnosed with incurable multiple myeloma, a rare type of cancer that causes bone pain. After his diagnosis in August 2013, he started treatment at the Mayo Clinic — and announced in December 2014 that he was in remission.
“That was … part of the blessing of my life is that I could pick up the phone and call the Mayo Clinic, and they would make room and send a plane right now,” he told SurvivorNet in a new interview. “99.9% of the people who get involved in this kind of a situation don’t have those opportunities … I’m keenly aware of that.”
Brokaw said that these days he still has pain in his back, and has started using medical marijuana to ease his symptoms.
“I’m now on medical marijuana for my back, for the first time,” he said. “I’ve not done that before. But in Florida, it’s complex. And I’m unraveling it full-time.”
Along with sorting out medical marijuana laws, Brokaw is also deep into figuring out the cost of his cancer treatments. He said that his ability to afford the prohibitive drug costs with insurance is also a privilege.
“An extraordinary amount of progress has been made with drugs and treatment. We haven’t gotten the cost thing worked out yet,” he said. At one point, I counted up the price and it was something like $10,000 a week, you know, that I was spending on drugs. I have the blessing of having a great program through first RCA, then GE, and now Comcast. So the checks that I write for pharmacy are very, very small. And it makes — every time I do that, it makes me aware of the people who are not in the same position that I am, and how I think about them.”
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Brokaw said that it was something Americans need to figure out.
“How do we deal with this as a culture? Not the politics of it, but as a culture,” he said. “We have the ability to do it. We have the greatest resources in the world. Let’s figure out how we can make it cost effective, how we can have a true testing program for efficiency and results, and that people will have access to those results.”
Brokaw also said the daily news cycle helps to distract him from thinking about his cancer.
“We’re living through a very dynamic time, to put it mildly, in American politics. So that — that’s as important to me as my cancer is. And I think it helps me get through the cancer,” he said. “So I’m not dwelling on this cancer all the time. I’ve got a fatal cancer. I don’t — I don’t wake up thinking that way.”
His goal now, Brokaw joked, is to still be “vertical” on his next birthday.
“You know, I want to stay upright,” he said with a laugh. “In less than a year, I’ll be 80 years old. I’m finding that hard to believe, quite honestly. And I think even without cancer, turning 80 might have been a little more tricky than I thought it was going to be.”