Monday, February 06, 2006

Ivins, battling cancer, feisty as ever

This may be old news to others, since the story apparently ran a week ago, but I've just learned that the indefatigable Molly Ivins is battling cancer for the third time. The Austin American-Statesman reports:

By W. Gardner Selby

Molly Ivins, battling breast cancer afresh, sounds as feisty as ever.

The South Austin resident continues writing her left-of-center column, raising money for the journal where she forged her tart take on politics and, of course, cheerfully gigging Republicans such as the well-coifed governor of Texas.

'Actually, I feel pretty good,' syndicated columnist Molly Ivins said Wednesday at her Travis Heights home. For a third time, she's battling breast cancer.

Ivins, 61, tongue-in-cheeked that Gov. Rick Perry's trip to Iraq this week will slow anti-American insurgents. "The mere sight of his hair will do a world of good," she said.

She chatted with two visitors to her home office in Travis Heights without donning her wig of reddish-blond locks; her pate was nearly bald.

The California native, who grew up in the tony River Oaks section of Houston, fielded her latest (and third) cancer diagnosis around Thanksgiving. Surely she could be excused for feeling sorry for herself or slowing down.

"Actually," she said, "I feel pretty good." Renewed chemotherapy appears to be helping.

Ivins has all but forbidden gifts of food and other items. She was overwhelmed with well-intended advice and goodies after she wrote of her initial diagnosis of breast cancer in 1999. The outpouring kept her from telling readers of the recurrences in 2003 and two months ago, her assistant, Betsy Moon, said.

Lately, Ivins has urged friends and fans to give instead to The Texas Observer, a liberal biweekly of politics and literature run on a shoestring for 51 years. Ivins, co-editor with Kaye Northcott from 1970 to 1976, even let the magazine put her face on a $10 gourmet chocolate bar available online and at the magazine's ramshackle Austin office.

At a recent Observer fundraiser, Ivins prankishly yanked off a hat to reveal her nearly hairless dome. She pleaded guilty to "shameless exploitation of sympathy for cancer. We might as well do something useful because God knows I don't need another casserole."

Ever a quipster (once trading opinionated barbs weekly on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes"), Ivins remains a spring of saucy invective on behalf of the oft-defeated left wing of American politics. She persists, too, in provoking conservatives who sometimes dismiss her as an ill-informed critic who still (goldang it) writes well.

Little has deterred the former cub reporter for the Houston Chronicle. A graduate of Smith College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she also reported for the Minneapolis Tribune, the Observer and The New York Times before becoming a columnist starting in the early 1980s at the (now-defunct) Dallas Times Herald.

Nearly 400 newspapers, including the Austin American-Statesman subscribe to her twice-weekly column. Ivins isn't giving in.

"Maybe this is false bravado," she said. "In some ways for me, this is like having a manageable disease. It's like diabetes. It doesn't mean it's not going to come get me in the end."

Ivins, never married, said she's divided charitable bequests in her will between the American Civil Liberties Union, which she credits with defending the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, and her cherished Observer.

In her career, she said, she's watched daily newspapers excel and expand thanks to head-to-head competition and then, after many folded, leash spending on hard-to-get stories and shrink, becoming less vital. But she has hope for the Internet as a venue for investigative reporting.

Publications like the Observer are pivotal, she said. "Unless we keep these little independents alive, we're going to lose the whole thing, the whole idea of public-interest journalism."
Lest anyone think she's slacked off or mellowed because of the illness, here's her latest column, Bush v. Reality.


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