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Geraldine Ferraro battling blood cancer; using drug thalidomide

Updated:

NEW YORK (AP) _ Former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic Party nominee for vice president in 1984, is battling blood cancer.

Ferraro was diagnosed with multiple myeloma after a routine physical in December 1998.

Ferraro, 65, disclosed her illness in a New York Times interview published Tuesday and discussed it on the ``Today'' show. She said she feels fine and doesn't want anyone to feel sorry for her.

``I don't want anybody to treat me any differently,'' Ferraro said on ``Today.'' ``I'm still going to go on and do the things that I do.''

For two years, Ferraro's disease was classified as ``smoldering myeloma,'' or inactive.

When tests showed the cancer cells were multiplying, Ferraro was prescribed thalidomide, the drug that was banned years ago after it was linked to birth defects among babies of pregnant women who took it as a sedative.

It has since been found to be effective against cancer, and Ferraro was one of the first patients with her condition to receive the controversial drug.

The thalidomide has put Ferraro's cancer into remission, and so far she has been able to avoid chemotherapy _ and stay positive.

``This is a race I may not win, but I've lost other races before, so it's not the end of the world,'' she said.

The blood cancer erodes the bones and leads to death within five years for half of those with the illness.

One of her doctors, Ken Anderson, and Kathy Giusti, president of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, said those statistics do not reflect the improved prognosis for someone like Ferraro who was diagnosed early, quickly went into remission and was initially relatively healthy.

``She's approaching this challenge as she has approached other challenges in her life,'' Anderson said at a news conference at the St. Vincent's Comprehensive Cancer Center in Manhattan. ``She has taken charge of her illness and taken charge of her care,'' he said, adding, ``I'm sure she'll be a winner.''

``She has little if any myeloma now. It hasn't slowed her down,'' Anderson said.

Ferraro, who served three terms in Congress, was picked to run as Walter Mondale's vice presidential candidate in 1984 _ the first woman to run as a major party candidate for national office _ and ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat from New York in 1992 and again in 1998.

She plans to testify about her illness at a Senate hearing Thursday, as an example of progress made in battling the disease.

Ferraro said she and her husband, John Zaccaro, are moving from their Queens home to an apartment in Manhattan at the end of the year. She said she won't be able to climb stairs in their four-story home if she gets weaker.

``You always anticipate in a marriage that the wife is going to survive the husband,'' Ferraro said. ``I've taught him how to make breakfast now, and he's not bad at making sandwiches ... but I don't expect that that will happen for a while.''

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the white blood cells that ordinarily produce antibodies. Their overgrowth can significant decrease other kinds of blood cells, resulting in anemia, clotting abnormalities and infections.

According to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, multiple myeloma is the second most prevalent blood cancer and represents approximately 1 percent of all cancers and 2 percent of all cancer deaths. About 14,000 new cases and 11,000 deaths from multiple myeloma are reported each year in the United States.

Ferraro works as a Fox news commentator and as a consultant advising companies on how to deal with the government.

She will spend the next few years enjoying her family, and would like to increase awareness and raise money for cancer research.

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