A cancer diagnosis is cause for alarm in anyone's life, but when it strikes the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it becomes a national issue. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), talks with Dr. Oz about his battle with cancer, his hope for a bipartisan solution to America's healthcare situation and the healing properties of a good game of squash.
At age 75, Senator Specter was diagnosed with cancer. "It's a shock," he says. "The thought crosses your mind, 'Will I live or die?' And, beyond that, 'Will I be able to carry on my duties?'" The senator's fighting spirit was evident as he continued to work, even as chemotherapy treatments caused his hair to fall out. "'Never give in' was my mind-set," he says. "I had the benefit of having a demanding job—the tougher the day, the better I liked it. I didn't have time to think about myself."
Adding to Senator Specter's tough days was an important daily ritual—one he credits with helping him fight his cancer. "I've been playing squash almost daily for 38 years," he says. "When you have chemo, you really just feel lousy, but it was a matter of dragging myself to the court. I couldn't play six games, but I could play two." Ultimately, it comes down to mind over matter, he says. "You can't do things that are just physiologically beyond you, but you can do things with a mind-set for exercise and diet."
Winning his fight against cancer and serving on the Senate Committee on Appropriations both give Senator Specter some insight into how to improve the nation's medical system. "The best way to reduce the cost of medical care is to reduce the illness," he says. On the appropriations committee, Senator Specter works closely with Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on a bipartisan plan to emphasize total wellness, diet and exercise in America. "People have to take care of themselves, but the federal government could take the lead with tax incentives and educational programs," he says.
Because he places such a high value on the nation's health, Senator Specter has no trouble crossing the aisle in the Senate to create change. "There's a lot of bickering for political advantage, [and] most of our battles come over money," he says. "There's nothing more important than our good health—that's our principal capital asset." The best way for the public to see change in government is to create it, Senator Specter says. "Government in Washington is only as good as the American people demand it," he says. "For the Congress to come together, there's going to have to be movement by the voters."