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History will remember Geraldine Ferraro, the first female candidate for vice president of the United States, for paving the way for many other women to seek political office. In the last years of her life she took a new role – a woman living with cancer and serving as a patient advocate.
Ferraro died March 26, 2011 at age 75 from multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. At the time of her diagnosis she was given three years to live – five at the most. Instead she lived with cancer for 12 years and became an inspiration and example for others. The condition has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers; the five year relative survival rate for multiple myeloma is approximately 38 percent.
Ferraro’s highly visible outreach on behalf of patients, and remaining in that role for more than a decade, gave much needed hope to patients and families. About 20,000 patients are newly diagnosed in the U.S. annually with nearly 70,000 people living with (or in remission from) multiple myeloma at this time.
Blood cancer survivor and blogger Betsy de Parry remembered Ferraro this way: “I knew Geraldine Ferraro not as the politician or successful businesswoman that she was, but as a warm, witty and caring fellow blood cancer survivor. Don't get me wrong. It's not that we were close friends, except for a few brief moments back in the fall of 2004.
I had contacted her office to see if she'd be willing to read a draft of my book and perhaps make a comment for the cover. Her secretary asked me to send a draft which I did, never really expecting to hear from Ms. Ferraro.
Imagine my surprise when I answered the phone about a month later, and the voice said, 'Hi, this is Geraldine Ferraro and I'm calling for Betsy...With a warm chuckle, as if she were my very best friend, she asked, 'Doesn't cancer suck?' Talk about an ice breaker. Here was a woman who ran in the top political circles blasting cancer just like the rest of us.
We spoke for nearly a half hour.