Counting His Blessings
- Conservative TV and radio host Dan Bongino, 46, is a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor who is in remission and knows he has a lot to be thankful for.
- In an interview with SurvivorNet, the former secret service agent gets real about life behind the political scene, and is thankful for all the wonderful women in his life: his wife, his mom, and his daughters.
- “There are some really poignant moments when you go through cancer,” Bongino says. He details struggling with chemo hiccups, the fears of finding another lump, and his mantras for getting through the tough times.
Bongino recently took over the late Rush Limbaugh's radio time slot, broadcasting The Dan Bongino Show on FOX Nation in addition to Westwood One from noon ET to 3 p.m. ET each weekday. The show has already logged strong ratings thanks to his loyal fan base, and his Fox News show Unfiltered with Dan Bongino, which airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET, has been the number one show for adults 25-54 for the second week in a row.Read More
“I had two cycles, four treatments for chemo, a relatively mild course. Then I had 10 days of radiation,” he tells SurvivorNet. Since then, he has been in remission with no evidence of disease. Bongino’s last PET-CT scan to check for cancer showed some spots of inflammation here and there, but that was because he had just been vaccinated for COVID.
“Nobody seemed particularly worried, so my golden rule is, 'If they ain't worried, I ain't worried.' When they worry, I'll worry. I have too much to worry about. If the doctor tells me to worry, I'll worry,” he says.
Bongino also recently found another lump on his neck and “freaked out.”
“It turns out it looks like a fatty tumor thank God, which I get a lot of those it's not a big deal, but obviously you panic about everything,” he says. “The doctor said if it was a cancerous tumor, we would have seen it on your last PET (scan). I almost lost my mind. But when you're not around doctors all the time, every little lump and bump and cough and sneeze freaks you out, but you've gotta learn to live with it. What are you gonna do? I'm not gonna have a doctor on staff 24 hours a day.”
The only thing that he does notice that is different about his body? The treatment seemed to have affected his heart.
“I'm convinced my heart got a little dinged up during the treatment,” he shares, noting the history of heart disease in his family. “My heart is behaving a little differently, nothing dramatic. My resting heart rate used to be in the low 50s all the time, now, not so much. I'm getting old too, I'm 46, it's not like I'm in my mid-30s. Chemo beats you up. You've been poisoned.”
In the meantime, Bongino is proactive with regular blood tests and staying on top of his health. As far as his mental health and stress go, the former secret service agent also shared his ultimate secret weapon who helps keep it all together: his wife Paula.
Dan’s Marriage Dynamic
“She's the best. She runs my entire business, my wife. It really is all her. All I have to do is go on the air and talk, I don't have to do anything,” he says of his partner of 20 years. “She runs the administrative side, the accounting side, the HR side, the investment side, she really runs everything.”
The couple met in 2001, married in 2003, and have two daughters, Isabel, 17, and Amelia, 9. The family resides in Palm City, Florida, where he shoots his shows. “No serious person would question that inflammation and constant stress are probably not beneficial while you're still recovering from Hodgkin's, so having my wife around has been key,” he says.
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Life Behind the Lens
Although Bongino has had it easier than some, he recalls tough times during chemotherapy.
“There are some really poignant moments when you go through cancer,” he says. “The worst part of the chemo for me wasn't the nausea, I wasn't nauseous at all. The worst part for me was the darn hiccups, they call them chemo hiccups. It just never stopped.”
Bongino had trouble getting rest for work and was up many nights getting comforted by his wife.
“I would get choked up, because I could not go to sleep because of these damn chemo hiccups,” he recalls. “My wifeI was like a childshe would be patting my back like she was burping a child and we would be up to two or three in the morning. She would be like, 'I can't watch you go through this.'”
Then he would wake up at 6 the next day and do the show “like nothing happened.”
“You know, I don't like to tell my audience, because I always said I wouldn't do a show when I didn't feel like it, but there were a couple days where I was on the borderline, like 'I don't know if I can do this today,'” Bongino admits. “And I was like, 'you know what, I'm gonna do it, this isn't that bad, and I'll get through it. Toughen up, don't be a wuss, and get on the air.'”
In fact, that’s how the best-selling author gets through moments of weakness or fear.
“Toughen up, cut the bullshit, the world’s a tough place, stop feeling bad for yourself,” Bongino says of his self-mantras. “Every time I think ‘poor me’ I go into the oncology clinic. I met a lady with stage 4 stomach cancer who had two weeks to live. When you think, ‘Nobody has it worse than me,’ I promise you, I can probably go find 1,000 people who have it worse than you. Self pity? That’s all bullshit. Seriously. Toughen up. I’m not lecturing anyone else, I’m telling you how I get through it.”
Bongino says he shares the same type of advice with his daughters.
“I always say, 'Collect opportunities. Don't chase trains.' Collect every opportunity in life that people give you, every one,” he says. “You never know who you're going to meet. But don't chase trains. If the train leaves at 8, you better be there at 7:55. You're late? That's your problem. You missed it. You blew it. Sorry. And then I always tell them, you gotta be honest and candid with people. We're all sinners, we make mistakes, sometimes people lie, it happens, but you have to make a commitment to the truth, because people don't respect liars.”
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The Challenges of Managing Work and Family
The busy family man shares that it has been challenging to balance work and family lately, but he has been making the best of it by hanging out with his daughters on the weekends.
“It's hard. It's really hard. Everything's happening at one time,” he says. “My oldest daughter is 17, so she pretty much does her own thing, she'll come out with us for dinner on the weekends but my youngest during the weekend, I like to just rent a cabana somewhere with a pool. We went down to The Breakers [hotel in West Palm Beach, Fla.] a couple weeks ago, and I brought down a couple of her friends. My youngest daughter is 9 so she'll just play for 12-14 straight hours.”
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His Mom’s Sweet Support
Bongino previously told SurvivorNet that he broke down to his mom on the phone following his cancer diagnosis. The proud mom can’t get enough of her son’s success.
“We talk a lot. She likes to text me after every single radio show or talk show and podcast, 'Hey, great job!' with heart emojis. It's kinda funny, she enjoys it,” he says with a chuckle. “I think she's living vicariously through me, which is funny because growing up in my house, no one ever talked about politics ever. EVER. I don't recall one conversation about it. All they talked about was sports. Yankees and Mets and Jets and Giants and that's it. But now my mom is all into politics from watching my show it's kind of hilarious.”
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Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes, which work with your immune system to protect your body from diseases and infections. The two most common forms are Hodgkin lymphoma, which Bongino received treated for, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In a previous interview, Dr. Elise Chong from Penn Medicine explained the difference for SurvivorNet readers. "Dr. Thomas Hodgkin was the person who founded Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin is a less common type of lymphoma. We tend to see this in younger adults, as well as in older adults," she said.
Hodgkin is characterized by Reed-Sternberg cells, which are giant cells derived from B lymphocytes, in the blood. "If no Reed-Sternberg cells are detected, it's diagnosed as non-Hodgkin." Basically, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common, but Hodgkin lymphoma is easier to cure.
Stress and Cancer
Many people believe that stress causes cancer, which isn't exactly true. But there is a correlation.
Dr. Heather Yeo, a colorectal surgeon and oncologist from Weill Cornell Medicine, expands upon this controversial topic with SurvivorNet.
"There is no doubt that stress and your immune system affect your body and affect your body's chance of healing," Dr. Yeo says. "Many patients are very anxious and worried that they cause their own cancer through stress or anxiety. I always tell patients, you can't look in the past and you certainly can't blame yourself."
Stress does impact your body's ability to mount an immune response. "Stress certainly decreases your immune system and it may decrease your body's ability to fight certain cancers," Dr. Yeo says.
When there is an excess of stress hormones going on, "your body has a hard time recovering and cancer takes advantage of that."
Regardless of how stressed Bongino may feel from juggling it all, he 100% appreciates the support from his fans and does his best to communicate with them, especially those fighting cancer.
“We get close to 2-3,000 emails every week,” he says, along with countless messages on all of his social media channels. “I'll dip in every day for a few hours when I'm not working on one of the shows. I like it, I obviously enjoy it. I mean, my cancer battle is nothing like some of these others. They find it somewhat inspiring I guess, and that's great, I'm here to help, that's just my thing. If you get a response back, it's me direct. You don't realize how many people have it until you have it, then everyone starts telling you they have it!”
Hearing other people’s stories continues to put life in perspective for Bongino.
“I feel good. I mean, I don't feel bad. But knock on wood, you know. I'm not a superstitious guy, but cancer made me superstitious, which is super weird,” he says. “But I feel okay, I'm not skipping any workouts, my diet's healthy, I mean, the work load is a lot, but you know, listen, there are Americans out there building buildings, digging ditches, driving trucks, I've got nothing to complain about, I talk all day. It's not that hard.”