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Ferraro battles cancer, plans to leave Forest Hills

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Geraldine Ferraro, the country’s first female vice presidential candidate who lives in Forest Hills Gardens, disclosed this week she has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a terminal form of blood cancer.

Ferraro, 65, was scheduled to testify Thursday at a U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on all forms of blood cancer.

“What we’re trying to do is raise awareness and raise sensitivity with reference to multiple myeloma as an important illness that must be addressed in the same way as leukemia and lymphoma,” Ferraro said in telephone interview.

Multiple myeloma is a rare blood disease that attacks the bones and leads to death within five years for half of the people diagnosed with it.

“We’re hoping to get the Senate to help us with more research dollars and get the FDA to work faster in approving new drugs,” Ferraro said.

She and her doctors have been treating her illness with Thalidomide, the infamous drug that caused birth defects in a generation of children born between 1956 and 1961. Ferraro is one of the first multiple myeloma patients in the country to receive the new treatment.

“Such a strange thing,” she said. “What was terrible for a healthy fetus has been wonderful at defeating the cancer cells.”

Ferraro will testify on a panel with Ken Anderson, a top researcher with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and Kathy Giusti, founder of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

“I look great and I feel great, and it’s what early diagnosis and research can do,” she told The New York Times in a story published Tuesday. “The research needs to go forward.”

The disease accounts for about 1 percent of all cancers and causes an estimated 11,000 deaths annually in the United States. The cancer suppresses the immune system and leads to anemia, infections, nerve failure and bone fractures. It is among the top 10 causes of death among blacks.

The causes of the disease are unknown, but exposure to radiation and pesticides is thought to increase risk, said officials with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Ferraro was first diagnosed with the disease in 1998 following her early run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Her physician detected it in its early stages and for two years her condition was classified as “smoldering myeloma,” or inactive, The Times said.

The former congresswoman said she and her husband, John Zaccaro, informed each of their three children of her disease separately. They also told close friends.

Ferraro and Zaccaro, who have four grandchildren, raised their children in their Forest Hills Gardens home. However, they expect to sell the house and acquire a Manhattan apartment so Ferraro can move about more easily, she told The Times.

“The house is four levels, and unless there is a cure for this, I am going to have trouble walking up and down steps. Not now, in the future. I’m fine now,” Ferraro told the newspaper.

Ferraro was elected as a U.S. representative from Queens in 1978 and held the post for six years. In 1984 she became the first and only woman nominated for vice president when she ran with Walter Mondale on the losing Democratic ticket.

Ferraro said the degree of support since she announced her illness publicly has been enormous.

“I cannot tell you what it has been like,” she said describing the flood of phone calls, e-mail messages, and faxes that have flooded her office. “The outpouring of concern has been mind-boggling. People have been very generous.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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