A Household Name
- Late ABC news anchor Peter Jennings stunned the nation when he announced his lung cancer diagnosis 16 years ago, and sadly died just four months later at 67 years old.
- Jennings admitted that he was a past smoker, and showed empathy for the millions of Americans battling cancer.
- A leading expert says how crucial it is to be prepared with questions following a lung cancer diagnosis, and how past and present smokers should get screened via CT scan which can detect a potential cancer earlier.
The authoritative-yet-smooth and reassuring voice on ABC World News Tonight was a voice that many Americans grew up with, a beloved household name that families trusted to deliver them the world news each and every night for 22 years.Read More
On April 5, 2005, a raspy Jennings delivered some of his most difficult news to date.
“As some of you now know, I have learned in the last couple of days that I have lung cancer,” he said, then started speaking quickly, perhaps caught up in the emotion and anxiety of addressing this tough topic for the first time. “Yes, I was a smoker until about 20 years ago, and I was weak, and smoked over 9/11 … but whatever the reason, the news does slow you down a bit.”
Jennings said that he had been floored by the support from his fans and co-workers, while also acknowledging the people battling the disease.
“I’ve been reminding my colleagues today, who have all been incredibly supportive, that almost 10 million Americans are already living with cancer and I have a lot to learn from them,” he said. “And living is the key word. The National Cancer Institute says that we are survivors from the moment of diagnosis.”
He noted that he would continue to do the broadcast on good days, “my voice won’t always be like this.” Jennings said he was a little surprised at the kindness he experienced about his diagnosis. “That’s not intended as false modesty, but even I was taken aback by how far and how fast news travels.”
The journalist concluded with some honesty and lighthearted humor over concerns about his hair, which many cancer patients can relate to.
“I wonder if other men and women ask their doctors right away, ‘OK doc, when does the hair go?’ At any rate, that’s it for now on World News Tonight. Good evening, I’m Peter Jennings. Thanks, and good night.”
Jennings started “aggressive chemotherapy treatment the following week,” according to ABC. Unfortunately, the diagnosis came too late, and he lost his fight on August 7, 2005 in New York.
“Peter died with his family around him, without pain and in peace. He knew he’d lived a good life,” his family’s statement read.
A Remarkable Career
Jennings dropped out of high school and started doing his own morning radio show at age 9. The Canadian-American then landed an anchor job at Canadian Television after a news reporting job for a radio station. He was born into a broadcasting family, so it was in his blood.
While covering the Democratic National Convention in 1964, he impressed the president of ABC and was offered a reporting job for the network in New York. Aiming to get young viewers, they put the then 26-year-old on the air on Feb. 1, 1965. The rest is history.
Jennings, one of the first reporters to go to Vietnam in the 1960s, was assigned as a foreign correspondent and established an ABC News bureau in Beirut in 1968, becoming an expert on the Middle East over the seven years he spent there. In 1974, he won a Peabody Award for a profile of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The Television Academy honored Jennings in 2011, inducting him into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
The veteran anchor had a street named after him in New York City. In February 2006, just six months after his death, mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a bill to turn the corner of West 66th Street and Columbus Avenue to “Peter Jennings Way” in his honor.
Jennings is survived by his wife, producer Kayce Freed, 63, and his two children from his marriage to journalist Kati Marton: Elizabeth, 41, and Christopher, 39. The anchor was married four times.
Freed inherited half of her late husband’s $50 million dollar estate and their Central Park West apartment, according to the L.A. Times, while his kids inherited most of the remaining fortune. Jennings also left $1 million worth of assets to the Peter Jennings Foundation, a charity he founded to fight homelessness, hunger, and drug addiction.
Getting Diagnosed with Lung Cancer
When you first get diagnosed with lung cancer, or any other type of cancer, the news can be unfathomable. Sometimes it’s hard to focus because your mind is running in so many directions with so many questions and concerns. That’s why it’s important to know the right questions to ask to make sure you stay on top of your health for what’s ahead in the coming weeks and months.
Dr. Patrick Forde, a thoracic oncologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, tells SurvivorNet about the first steps typically taken after a lung cancer diagnosis.
First, your medical team will stage the cancer with imaging, a CT scan usually and sometimes an MRI and MRI scan of the brain. Then they need to get a sample of the tumor biopsy on which they perform some routine tests, the most important of which is a PD-L1 test, which helps direct the use of immunotherapy, but also more complicated testing looking for gene mutations in the tumor.
“There are two main types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, which is about 85% of lung cancers, and small cell lung cancer, which is about 15%,” Dr. Forde says. “Within that non-small cell category, there’s a subtype called non-squamous adenocarcinoma, and that’s the group of patients for whom genetic testing is very important on the tumor. Genetic testing is looking for mutations in the DNA, in the tumor, which are not present in your normal DNA.”
Dr. Forde gives an overview of the most important questions to ask after a lung cancer diagnosis:
- Ask about the type of lung cancer
- Ask about the stage of the cancer
- If the cancer is metastatic or stage 4, ask about the genetic mutation results and also the PD-L1 testing
- The PD-L1 test is a “simple test” that involves staining a sample of the tumor with a marker for PD-L1. The lab gives the tumor a percent expression score ranging from from zero where none of the cells have PD-L1 expression and up to 100 percent where all of the cells have PD-L1 expression.
“The likelihood of the tumor responding to immunotherapy depends to a degree on the level of expression,” Dr. Forde says. A tumor with 90% expression PD-L1 on the surface is more likely to respond than one that has no expression.
Dr. Forde says that non-smokers should make sure genetic testing is performed before going directly on immunotherapy.
As with many other cancers, the earlier you can catch the cancer, the better the prognosis will be. Early detection is crucial.
“In about 70 to 80% of patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer, unfortunately the cancer has spread outside of the lung and is not suitable for surgery,” Dr. Forde says.
The best way to detect lung cancer early is with a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan. This test uses a very small amount of radiation to create highly detailed pictures of your lungs. It can reveal cancer long before your very first symptom appears. Dr. Forde suggests that any past or present smoker get this test.