Voices of the NIH Community

“Four months after I pinned on 4 stars, I [had] stage 4 metastatic disease”

U.S. Army General Robert Cone had just returned from Iraq, resumed command of the base at Fort Hood, Texas, and been promoted to four stars when he was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic prostate cancer. He talks to Dr. Bill Dahut of the National Cancer Institute, about enrolling in a clinical trial that allowed him to finish his Army career on his terms.


Robert Cone: It wasn’t all that common that anyone from my high school would have gone to a thing like the United States Military Academy at West Point and I had this sort of aim high, go for your dreams kind of approach that I adopted at some point and just decided, you know, kind of why not me, why couldn’t I do this?  And I told that to a guidance counselor.  There’s a long pause and he kind of looked at me and sort of said, “Looking through your file--” and he thumbed through it, he said, “--I just don’t see anything here that would lead us to believe that you’re going to be successful if you went that route.”

At that point, it was like a gauntlet was thrown down to challenge me – grades changed, athletic performance increased.  It was sort of like I realized that to change my life, it was going to take a significant change in behaviors and that the only person that could do that was me.

Bill Dahut: Isn’t one of your graduate degrees more in social sciences?

Robert Cone: It is.  It’s been extremely helpful to me to have that degree.  Two of the areas that I specialized in were gender integration issues--

Bill Dahut: Uh huh.

Robert Cone: --and ultimately went on to be the principle architect of the Army’s plan to integrate women into combat arms--

Bill Dahut: Wow.

Robert Cone: --and then race relations, and then certainly had played a leading role in the military and race relations.

Bill Dahut: As your physician, you know, I’ve known you here at Walter Reed and obviously more recently on a clinical trial.  What was it like becoming a patient?

Robert Cone: It was devastating.

Bill Dahut: Yeah.

Robert Cone: You know, you work your whole 33 years at that point, the pinnacle of your life.  Four months after I pinned on four-star, I was given the diagnosis of Stage 4 metastatic disease.  It was stunning.  Because I think your whole life you’re in control of everything and when you have cancer, you realize you’re not in control of this.

Bill Dahut: Right.

Robert Cone: I’m over two years now in my clinical trial—

Bill Dahut: Right, right.

Robert Cone: --and the little old man in the chair next to me, he’s wearing a Navy hat by the way, and he looks over at me and says, “You must be the one they call the General.”  I go, “Yeah, I am.”  He goes, “Well how many rounds of chemo do you have, General?”  And I go, “Well, I’m on my 39th 3-week round.”  And he goes, “Well, I’m on my 80th today.” 

It just caused me to reflect.  It’s about faith, it’s about understanding your minor role in the grand scheme of things.  It’s about attitude.  And the final thing is exercise.  If I let my liver slip or my heart slip or something like that, then I’m not going to be eligible for the next great thing you guys come up with as a clinical trial. 

Probably most people would not guess based on the calendar I run today, etcetera, that I have cancer.  Cancer is a small, small part of my life.

This page last reviewed on February 27, 2023