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Thompson Talks Health on the Road in Iowa

Fred Thompson worked the crowds in Iowa. (AP).

ON THE BUS IN IOWA, Sept. 7--Fred Thompson described his cancer as a chronic illness that is always "potentially there," but said the lymphoma that he was diagnosed with three years ago is in remission and would not affect his performance as president.

Thompson talked with reporters at length about his health and his opinions about Iraq, social security, homosexuality and abortion during a 30-minute interview on a bus as he traveled from Sioux City to LeMars, Iowa.

He said he was alerted to the cancer by a small bump on the left side of his neck. The first test on it was negative, he said, as was an initial follow-up biopsy.

"I already told my mother and everybody, you know," he said. "Then I got a call, on the telephone, several days later. The doctor said we've done these additional kinds of tests...we've got to change our diagnosis."

Thompson said doctors gave him "a dose of radiation" at the spot where the cancer was detected and that he received several doses of chemotherapy. But he said doctors have assured him that the particular kind of cancer that he has is very survivable.

"It's not a matter of a stage, it's a matter of a kind," he said. "As I recall there are thirty-something different kinds of lymphoma. They keep telling me this is the kind to have. Yeah. Yeah, great."

Thompson said his doctor does not require him to come in for checkups, but that he chooses to do so. He said his last one was in May and that he plans to go in again next month.

"It is a chronic illness...I've heard doctors use the comparison to diabetes," he said."It's something that is always, you know, potentially there. To me the way they explained it, if there was a recurrence, I'd have to take more [chemotherapy.] Believe me, my priorities are such, with my family, that I wouldn't be thinking about this at all if I had any question."

On Iraq, Thompson offered flat-out support for the decision to invade and for the president's surge in troops earlier this year. In speeches, he frequently refers to Saddam Hussein as having been "a madman," and on the bus he repeated his belief that the war is justified.

"This is clearly in the best interests of the country," he said. "I think I can make that case. If [a] presidential candidate can't make the case for what he clearly thinks is in the best interests of the country, he shouldn't be running for president. It's just the right thing to do and I feel very strongly about it."

Asked about the American public's opinion about the Iraq war, Thompson said public polls will often vary. "I think that we've already begun to see a different response form the American people," he said. "American people don't want to lose."
In his stump speech, Thompson is critical of Congress and the "Washington bureaucracy" for ignoring the looming financial crisis of social security and instead just "kicking the can down the road." But in the interview, Thompson refused to say which painful solution he favors to keep the system from going bankrupt.

Asked whether he thought payroll taxes should increase, benefits should decrease, or the retirement age should go up, Thompson demurred. He talked about the need for a strong economy and said the next president should promise to convene a group immediately after being elected that will commit to tackling the social security issue and other entitlement reform.

"It would have to be in the context of discussions about everything else. By everything else, I'm talking about our whole entitlement situation. Social is not really as imminent. It has to be a global deal," he said. "It's not necessary at this stage of the game exactly what you would insist upon or not insist upon at this stage of the game. That would probably be counterproductive."

At events, Thompson stresses his "100-percent" record on opposition to abortion, and repeated that Friday. But he said he opposes making women subject to criminal sanctions.

"I've always said that I did not believe that young girls and their families should be criminalized. They can do whatever they want to abortion doctors, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "If it comes down to giving criminal sanctions to 18- 19-year old girls and their momma, I'm against that."

He also declined to agree with a questioner in Sioux City who suggested that gay people are deviant. He said he supports a constitutional amendment that would prohibit judges from overturning state laws prohibiting gay marriage.

"I'm not going to pass judgment on several million of my fellow citizens. Anybody that knows me knows how I feel about the importance of a family . . . of traditional marriage," he said. "It's the thing I want for my children. But it goes back to the unity we were talking about. As president of the United States one should not go out of their way to castigate or pass judgment publicly on a large segment of people."

There have been lighter moments on the campaign trail, too. In his appearances, Thompson often makes reference to his 3-year-old daughter, Hayden, and his 9-month old son, Sam. As he was answering questions from the audience Friday morning, Hayden ran on the stage and clasped Thompson's left leg, making the audience swoon.

He picked her up and said: "You're a good Republican. Do the elephant." She raised her arm up and down like a trunk. Later, before the interviews, Thompson wolfed down a bowl of microwaveable Hormel chili. "I'm a chili man," he declared after an aide checked to see that there was no evidence of the meal on his shirt. After bragging about his healthy eating habits earlier, Thompson conceded that "My wife is off the bus. I can have things like canned chili."

--Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  September 7, 2007; 4:30 PM ET
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