As Trent Lott was uttering his fateful words to Strom Thurmond, I was talking on the phone to Ginny Wolfe, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. She was in Louisiana where the GOP was trying to seal the deal to get one more Republican elected to the U.S. Senate. I told her I wanted to write a column about Sen. Bill Frist, whom I had interviewed a year ago when he was just starting as chair of the Senate campaign committee. As I reread that interview, I realized that the game plan he laid out was exactly the one that put the Senate back in Republican hands.
I told Wolfe that I was surprised so little had been written about Frist and that the morning-after quarterbacks had given all the credit to President Bush and Karl Rove. "I know," she said. "I almost feel a little sorry for him."
Well, there's no need now to shed any tears. Frist's demeanor both during the campaign and afterward won him the support of both his fellow senators and the White House. In a town where great ambition is often paired with great ego and self-promotion, Frist's style is refreshing and unique.
A clue to why he's so popular and how he'll deal with his colleagues may come from the annual Christmas letter he sends to them. It's good advice for all of us aging baby-boomers – not just members of the Senate – so I reprint it here as my Christmas present to those of you who fit the profile or know someone who does:
December 10, 2002
The holiday season is here and it's a wonderful time to pause and
express appreciation to our loved ones, to reflect on the past, and to anticipate the grand opportunities ahead.
Each of us in our Senate family serves others, too often casually neglecting to take care of ourselves and those closest to us. Take 60 seconds to serve yourself (and your family) by addressing each of the 9 items below.
Age-appropriate screening and regular check-ups WILL improve your
health. You owe it to those around you. Most of the following are age-specific to the "typical" senator, and thus please don't extrapolate to the entire population. I include suggestions for both men and women, in the hopes that you will share these tonight with your loved ones.
1. Have you had a colonoscopy in the last 5 years? If not, do! Every year
since I've been in the Senate except one, someone in the Senate family has had colon disease diagnosed this way. And cured! (It's not as bad as you might imagine!)
If you are >50 and have not had a colonoscopy, a fecal occult-blood
("hemoccult") test (requires a stool sample but can be done from home!)
yearly helps screen for polyps and cancer.
2. Do you have any moles that are changing in size, shape or color? If so,
have them biopsied immediately. In addition, any mole greater than the
width of a pencil eraser needs to come off (or seen by a dermatologist).
3. What is your blood pressure? If elevated (1 in 5 men >55 have high
blood pressure = "hypertension"), treat it. You typically DON'T have any symptoms with hypertension!
4. For women (over 50), have you had a mammogram since last December? A PAP smear in the past 3 years?
5. What is your PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen blood test for cancer)? It
should be checked annually, along with that digital rectal exam by your
doctor. Remember, prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer in men (1 in 8 over 60 years old are at risk). You will be cured if detected early. If I had to guess, I'd say that 2 of us in the Senate family will be diagnosed with new elevation of PSA this year!!
6. Consider a treadmill exercise (or other stress) test for your heart,
especially if your parents had heart disease or if you have smoked - it can
be life-saving. You will typically develop significant heart disease with a
perfectly normal resting EKG. There are a bunch of new heart imaging tests
you can discuss with your doctor.
7. Get a good old-fashioned physical exam annually, which will include the
routine screening blood tests.
8. Don't forget your shots: flu shot annually, and ask for Pneumovax and
tetanus booster (to prevent "lockjaw") every 10 years.
9. Wear your seat belt, don't smoke (lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer in
men), and exercise for at the very least 30 minutes three times a week (it's
Karyn and our three boys wish you and your family a healthy and joyful
With warmest wishes,
Bill Frist, M.D.
Thanks, Dr. Leader, and a happy, healthy New Year to all!