Learning Life's Ultimate Lesson:
A Q & A with Neil Cavuto, Fox News/Fox Business
Other than the occasional use of a cane or a raspy voice, no one can tell that television journalist Neil Cavuto was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) more than 15 years ago. And that was after surviving an advanced case of Hodgkin's lymphoma in the late 1980s. Despite his MS, Cavuto serves as senior vice president, anchor, and managing editor of business news for both Fox Business Network (FBN) and Fox News Channel (FNC). He anchors two daily news shows on two different networks, including the top-rated cable news program in its timeslot. He's also now directing FBN's election coverage. That is a schedule that would challenge the healthiest of journalists, but it doesn't slow down Cavuto.
He has published a bestselling book, More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life's Ultimate Lesson, in which he distills the lessons that dealing with MS have taught him and others. And he volunteers with the National MS Society to help more people understand MS. NIH MedlinePlus magazine recently asked Cavuto about how he deals with his MS.
How was your MS first diagnosed and by whom?
I was first diagnosed in August 1997, at the Morristown Neurology Center, or so it was called at the time. But I simply refused to accept that diagnosis. It sounded too incredible, and seeing as I had cancer just years prior, none of it made sense, and all of it seemed a bit overwhelming.I followed up with second and third and, ultimately, up to sixth and seventh opinions, along the way, getting similar reads from each and all — Johns Hopkins, Columbia Presbyterian, and, finally, my present doctor, Saud Sadiq at the MS Treatment Center in midtown Manhattan.
What treatments have your healthcare providers recommended since your diagnosis?
Since they couldn't quantify exactly what type of MS I had in the beginning, they opted for a weekly regimen of Biogen's Avonex injectable drug. Now and then, as symptoms worsened, I might be hospitalized for steroid injections and such, but by and large that Avonex treatment has been a constant. We've kicked around other, more aggressive, therapies, but I've always been leery about their side effects, and didn't want to be a risk-taker up front with any new treatments.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects your brain (including nerve cells), spinal cord, and optic nerve. It damages the myelin sheath, the material that surrounds and protects your nerve cells. This damage slows down or blocks messages between your brain and your body, leading to the symptoms of MS.
- Symptoms can include visual disturbances, pain, muscle weakness, trouble with coordination and balance, sensations such as numbness or "pins and needles", and/or thinking and memory problems.
- No one knows what causes MS. It may be an autoimmune disease, which happens when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake.
- Multiple sclerosis affects women more than men. It often begins between the ages of 20 and 40. MS can range from fairly mild to debilitating, with some people losing the ability to write, speak, or walk.
- There is no cure for MS, but medicines may slow it down and help control symptoms. Physical and occupational therapy may also help.
Do your symptoms come and go, or are they fairly constant?
They do tend to come and go, but more constant reminders of this illness are those very familiar to most MS patients — tingling nerves, particularly in the fingers, hands, and toes and feet. And fatigue is a huge issue. Juggling that and understanding my body's limitations has been my hardest fight. A little less common but just as annoying, if not more so when they pop up, are issues with my throat and larynx. When the nerve passages tend to tighten up, my voice can often sound hoarse. My walking can get compromised, as well, often limping and needing a cane. And on some days, being unable to walk at all. Blessedly, those days are rare. But I can feel them coming on, and I try to just be attuned to my body when they are.
You are able to maintain a full and busy family and work life, despite the MS. How do you do it?
Frankly, I don't know. I don't dwell on the pain or discomfort, and I've gotten used to compensating when one leg goes out, working the best I can with the other leg that's fine, or vice-versa. As with speech issues, I try to relax my voice when I can and parse my words closely and carefully. The same goes with eyesight. When it become blurry or compromised, I make sure I'm ready with a worst-case scenario. Since these vision issues are more pronounced the more tired I am, I deliberately opt for shows without scripts, shows that I can wing or do on the fly. It drives my producers crazy, because they instantly know, "Uh-oh, Cavuto's lost his sight." But they're very accommodative and, like me, kind of roll with the punches. For the most part, should these conditions come on suddenly, I've already made it a point to memorize as much of my script as possible — just to be sure, just to be ready. It's been working for me, working around my limitations and making the most of them.
Also, as cliché as this sounds, a good attitude helps. Since I love what I'm doing, and I'm a news and business news junkie. The adrenaline of covering this stuff more than makes up for the onslaught of the bad medical stuff thrown my way. I'm sufficiently jazzed enough to be sufficiently distracted. But I'd be lying to you if I told you that after five or six hours on the air, anchoring non-stop election or market coverage — as has been the case on more than a few occasions — I tend to just crumble into a heap when it's all over.
You have become a champion for those with MS and for research to find the causes and cures for the disease. How have you motivated yourself?
I'm a big believer in being positive. It sounds trite, but if for no other reason than it saves people the annoyance of hearing you whine, it's all to the better just acting "better." One thing I've discovered with this illness, as with cancer before, is that we all carry some baggage in life — some more than others. But that doesn't mean MS patients' pain is any less real. They just must recognize, as I've told them myself, that they aren't the only ones suffering, that they somehow must find a way to get outside themselves. I always try to pull patients back with this proviso, "take it from a self-absorbed TV anchor, it's not just about you." Get over 'you.' The sooner we get outside ourselves, and outside our own misery, the less we'll be miserable, and the less we'll be a pain to ourselves and others. All to the good. Be good. Think good. Life isn't all bad.