Former OK Governor Frank Keating shares cancer diagnosis; records message of support for ACS
The days following the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, were some of the most chaotic in Oklahoma’s history. Governor Frank Keating and his wife, First Lady Cathy Keating, were on site moments after the blast, and proved to be the calming force an uneasy state, and nation, needed at that time.
Today, the Keating’s are lending their voice to another critical need, and that is support for Oklahoma’s American Cancer Society. While much of the headlines this year have focused on COVID-19, every day 23 Oklahomans die from cancer.
“I have a high level of admiration for the American Cancer Society,” Keating said. “I think the non-profit community and organizations like ACS are some of the most essential services in the nation. They provide services the government could not provide, and it’s vital to support them during these times.” (story continues below)
Keating is a cancer survivor himself and knows first-hand how devastating a cancer diagnosis can be.
“I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2017,” he said. “I am a product of the ‘50s and ‘60s generation and we never thought about sunscreen. Back then when I was at the Culver Military Academy, I wore my naval officer’s uniform, and I had a hat, but I didn’t wear it that often. All those years of sun exposure are what directly led to my melanoma.”
The Governor first noticed the spot on his forehead a few years ago while still living in Virginia. He went to a dermatologist, who said it was nothing to worry about.
“So, I covered it with a little makeup, and went on with my life,” Keating said. “When Cathy and I moved home to Oklahoma, my doctor here said it looked suspicious and biopsied it. Sure enough it was melanoma, and it was aggressive. My surgeon removed it and said he got it all. But I still wanted a second opinion, so we went to MD Anderson, and the doctors there confirmed the cancer was gone. They praised the doctors here in Oklahoma, and that made me feel proud.”
Recently, the Keating’s recorded a public service announcement for the American Cancer Society of Oklahoma. It will begin airing on the organization’s social media channels on December 1, which is known nationally as #GivingTuesday. Other notable Oklahomans participating in the campaign are Oklahoma County Clerk David B. Hooten, and former news anchor Cherokee Ballard. Singer Pam Tillis, who has Oklahoma connections, is a cancer survivor and recorded a message of giving.
“We see Oklahomans die from cancer every day,” said Katie VanFossen, ACS Cancer Control Strategic Partnerships Manager. “One thing COVID-19 has taught us is to take preventative measures like washing our hands and wearing a mask. If we can learn to do that, we can learn to listen to screening guidelines and get more people tested for cancer. We work every day to get this message out to our friends and neighbors; maybe now this will get their attention.”
Throughout its 107-year history, ACS has made significant progress in attacking cancer. A vaccine for HPV, for example, has been proven to be an effective cancer barrier. Breast cancer deaths declined 40 percent from 1989 to 2016, largely due to improvements in early detection and treatment.
“We can continue this progress and reduce the daily number of cancer deaths if we approach cancer the same way we approach COVID,” VanFossen added. “Most people would be okay with getting a COVID test every day, yet many react with fear at the thought of a colonoscopy, lung scan or even a mammogram.”
This year, mammograms are down 87 percent due to COVID-19, and part of that is related to the mandated shutdown last spring.
“Mammograms are just one example,” she says. “Other screenings have been affected too. So that means when a person is diagnosed with cancer, their disease will likely be at a later stage, and ultimately we will see the mortality rate increase.”
Looking farther down the road, VanFossen says it’s difficult to imagine what the “new normal” will be. Hospital systems are now understaffed, she says, along with increased costs for healthcare.
“We understand COVID is scary,” she says. “Most of us have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes. But we want to get the word out that cancer remains a very real threat. Talk to your physician about any issues you may have and listen to their advice. As a society, we cannot forget about cancer even during a global pandemic.” The former Governor agrees.
“Cathy and I shot this video for the American Cancer Society because we believe it’s so important to let people know ACS needs help,” Keating said. “We all have people in our family or circle of friends who have been touched by cancer. When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ it can be very scary. But it is reassuring to know you’re not out there on the lake without a paddle, and ACS will be there on your journey.”
More information on the American Cancer Society can be found at Cancer.org, or by phoning the HelpLine at 1-800-227-2345. Look for the Keating’s #GivingTuesday message beginning Dec. 1 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @ACSOklahoma.