Senator Kennedy's Brain Cancer Fight is Much Like the Breast Cancer Fight

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • It takes just a single moment to change your life forever.

    It happens in that instant when the doctor looks you in the eye and hesitates, just a fraction of a second, then tries to steel himself to report bad news.

    It happens when sadness falls like night on the face of the nurse or social worker or radiologist with the doctor.

    It happens when your partner suddenly grips your hand, hard, as you both hear the news.

    You have cancer.

    Senator Ted Kennedy got that news today. The seizure that he suffered Saturday morning became, this afternoon, a malignant brain tumor.

    Kennedy, who’s represented the state of Massachusetts in the Senate for nearly half a century, has a glioma (tumor) in the left parietal lobe of his brain, according to a report from sources at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he was airlifted last weekend from his home on Cape Cod. Translation: Sen. Kennedy has a brain tumor that, barring a miracle, will eventually end his life. Average survival time for malignant brain tumors of this type ranges from 9 months to about 3 years, more or less.

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    Of course, Kennedy could be the guy who beats the cancer odds. His fellow legislators, in published interviews this afternoon, universally summed up his character with a common word: fighter. Barack Obama (“He’s a fighter”), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (“Sen. Kennedy has been a fighter all of his life”), and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. (…“a tireless fighter for America’s families”) all focused on this singular quality. Sen. John McCain characterized him as “the last lion in the Senate.”

    But as all of us with cancer know, it takes more than the willingness to fight to beat this devastating disease. It takes superb medical care, which undoubtedly Kennedy will receive. To his credit, Sen. Kennedy has always fought for Americans’ right to good health care; that good karma will come back to him now.

    Beating cancer also takes a strong spirit; the ability to fight, and fight, and fight, and NEVER give up, no matter how bad things get. It’s one thing to fight and lose a battle, then give up and lose the war. It’s quite another thing to fight and lose, fight and lose, and keep on fighting, even when it looks like you’ll never win again… simply because you absolutely refuse to quit. I pray that Sen. Kennedy has the strength he needs to lose (something he’s not used to), and to keep on fighting.

    But most important of all, beating cancer—especially when the odds are long, as in Kennedy’s case—takes luck, pure and simple. What combination of genes, chemicals, radiation, time, and a vast array of unknown (and unknowable) factors could turn the tide in his favor? People DO beat cancer. People who were absolutely supposed to die are still walking around today, their cancer mysteriously gone. Maybe Kennedy will become one of them. And maybe not.

    Is Sen. Kennedy a lucky man?

    We can only hope that he is. Because none of us wants to see yet another fellow human cut down by cancer.


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    Senator, starting now, we welcome you to the ever-growing ranks of cancer survivors. May your life stretch on for many years. And if it doesn’t, may you meet death as you’ve met life: with a fighting spirit.


Published On: May 20, 2008