FDR's Deadly Secret

Review :

After watching the recent PBS special on the Roosevelts, I reread this book.

Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed the outdoors. As a result, it is not unusual that he developed a macule (change in skin color) above his left eye. Photos from the 1920's show a very light discoloration but it was bigger and darker by the time he became president in 1933. It continued to grow and darken throughout the 1930s. This was a clear sign of melanoma, skin cancer, one of the most deadly forms of cancer.

Patients with melanoma are likely to see the cancer metastasize, especially to the abdomen and later the brain. Among those who die from melanoma, 60% had cancer in the bowels, and 90% have the cancer spread to the brain.

Someone with brain mestastase from melanoma is at high risk for brain hemorrhage.

Steven Lomazow, a board certified neurologist and his coauthor Eric Fettmann wrote a fascinating book in 2009 called FDR's Deadly Secret that makes a strong case the Franklin Roosevelt did not die from an out-of-the-blue brain aneurysm, but rather from a brain hemorrhage due to a brain tumor that grew from it's original melanoma.

Roosevelt in 1939 with lesion clearly visible

According to the book, on January 17, 1940 renowned cancer doctor Reuben Peterson wrote Roosevelt advising him that he should check the lesion over his left eye. Most doctors of the day did not recognize a lesion like Roosevelt's to be evidence of cancerous melanoma. At worst it might be precancerous. Hopefully, Roosevelt's doctors did a biopsy, but there is no record of it (more about that later). What we do know is that they took steps to reduce the size of the lesion. The photographic evidence is clear that beginning in 1940, the lesion was being operated on. For example, right after Roosevelt got Peterson's letter, he left on a hastily announced cruise on the USS Tuscaloosa. During the voyage, photos where nearly all from the right side, so his left eye was not seen. He also wore sunglasses a lot which he normally did not do. We can guess that Roosevelt's lesion was being treated, but it was likely already too late.

By early 1940, Franklin Roosevelt's cancer had metastasized and it was only a matter of time before he would die from his condition.

In May 1941, the president complained of stomach pains and fatigue. Blood tests showed he had lost the equivalent of eight pints of blood at some point in the prior 14 months. His doctor concocted a story about bleeding hemorrhoids, but a better explanation was internal bleeding in his GI tract. While Roosevelt was bedridden in the White House, his press secretary made excuses that he was suffering from a minor intestinal ailment. The treatment, which remained secret from the public, was blood transfusions, at least eight of them through the summer. Lomazow and Fettmann believe they have found circumstantial evidence that the bleeding may have been caused by radiation treatment for prostate cancer. None of this was included in the recent PBS Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts.

By 1942 the lesion above Roosevelt's eye was gone, evidence doctors knew it might lead to skin cancer (and in fact already had).

Roosevelt 1942 with lesion removed.

In September 1943 his cousin Daisy Suckley recorded that Roosevelt was complaining of stomach pain that continued during the Tehran conference in November.

The next medical problem was identified (and acknowledged in the Burns documentary) no later than the spring of 1944 when Roosevelt was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and left ventricular failure. Doctors treated him for hypertensive heart disease.

Not covered in the documentary was doctors continuing to record further episodes of the president's abdominal pain.

Roosevelt ran for a fourth term hiding his significant health problems. A number of people who knew him well did not believe he would last another full term.

During the campaign, a letter to his wife and later recollection of his son James both recorded the president's continued bowel pains. He reported he had no interest in food because he could not taste it. By the time he died he probably weighed less than 150 pounds, a weight loss of at least 35 pounds during his last year.

After the election, people close to the president started noticing the president had periods of listlessness. The authors surmise that these were seizures caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This condition was noticed during the important Yalta Conference where Roosevelt met with Churchill and Stalin to make postwar plans. Many people have concluded that being sick, Roosevelt gave up too much to Stalin.

Roosevelt was exhibiting signs of a brain tumor. Perhaps the greatest proof of this was Roosevelt's speech to Congress upon his return from the Soviet Union. Burns documentary mentions the speech and notes that it was one of the few times that Roosevelt publicly referred to his polio condition. Burns did not mention that the speech was a disaster. Roosevelt could not stay on script. He took off on tangents and lost his place in the text, botching many of the words. Reviewing copies of the original speech document, Lomazow and Fettmann noticed a pattern - the parts of the speech where Roosevelt made errors were all on the left side of the page. The president was unable to see the left side of each line of his speech. This is called left hemisanopia, a condition effecting the right posterior portion of the brain that can be caused by brain tumors.

On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and died a few hours later. When the embalmers came to prepare the body, they noticed the stomach was unnaturally distended. There was no autopsy.

Roosevelt's medical records have disappeared. Even when his wife Eleanor requested them 10 years later, she was told they could not be found.

Why did this cover-up happen Roosevelt considered himself indispensable in a world at war, and many historians would agree. Had Roosevelt's true condition been known to the public, there is no way he would have been re-elected in 1940, much less 1944. After his death there was less reason to hide the truth, except for the fact that it would detract from the heroic myth of FDR, the patron saint of the Democrat Party.

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

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