Senator Edward Kennedy in 2005. (AP Photo)
SENATOR KENNEDY’S FAMILY, FRIENDS REELING AFTER GRIM DIAGNOSIS
BOSTON (AP) – The grim diagnosis that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has an almost certainly fatal brain tumor was “a real curveball” that left his family stunned even as he joked and laughed with them, his wife told her friends.
In her first public comments on her husband’s diagnosis, Vicki Kennedy expressed pride in how well her husband of 15 years was handling the news.
“Teddy is leading us all, as usual, with his calm approach to getting the best information possible,” she wrote in an e-mail Tuesday to friends.
“He’s also making me crazy (and making me laugh) by pushing to race in the Figawi this weekend,” she wrote, referring to the annual sailing race from Cape Cod to Nantucket.
An Associated Press photographer who was given access to the senator on Tuesday captured Kennedy, dressed in a gray sweater and dark slacks, joking and laughing with family members as he sat at a table in a family room at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Doctors discovered the cancerous tumor after the 76-year-old senator suffered a seizure over the weekend. Outside experts predicted he had no more than three years – and perhaps far less – to live.
Family members with suitcases bunked with Kennedy overnight. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., was determined not to leave until doctors settled on a treatment plan.
“Obviously it’s tough news for any son to hear,” said Robin Costello, a spokeswoman for Patrick Kennedy. “He’s comforted by the fact that his dad is such a fighter, and if anyone can get through something as challenging as this, it would be his father.”
The diagnosis cast a pall over Capitol Hill, where the Massachusetts Democrat has served since 1962, and came as a shock to a family all too accustomed to sudden, calamitous news.
“He’s had a biopsy, and we don’t yet have final pathology or a plan or course of treatment. But I have to be honest, we’ve been pitched a real curveball,” Vicki Kennedy wrote.
Doctors said the senator had a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe, a region of the brain that helps govern sensation, movement and language. Malignant gliomas are diagnosed in about 9,000 Americans a year; in general, half of all patients die within a year.
“It’s treatable but not curable. You can put it into remission for a while but it’s not a curable tumor,” said Dr. Suriya Jeyapalan, a neuroncologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The doctors said Kennedy will remain in the hospital for the next couple of days as they consider chemotherapy and radiation. They did not mention surgery, a possible indication the tumor is inoperable.
In a statement Tuesday, Dr. Lee Schwamm, vice chairman of neurology at Massachusetts General, and Dr. Larry Ronan, Kennedy’s primary physician, said the senator “remains in good overall condition, and is up and walking around the hospital.”
“He remains in good spirits and full of energy,” the physicians said.
Senators of both parties heard about his condition during their weekly, closed-door policy lunches, and some looked drawn or misty-eyed as they emerged.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the longest-serving member of the Senate, wept as he prayed for “my dear, dear friend, dear friend, Ted Kennedy” during a speech on the Senate floor.
“Keep Ted here for us and for America,” said the 90-year-old Byrd, who is in a wheelchair. He added: “Ted, Ted, my dear friend, I love you and I miss you.”
In a statement, President Bush saluted Kennedy as “a man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength and powerful spirit.” He added: “We join our fellow Americans in praying for his full recovery.”
Kennedy has been active for his age, maintaining an aggressive schedule on Capitol Hill and across Massachusetts. He has made several campaign appearances for Sen. Barack Obama.
“He fights for what he thinks is right. And we want to make sure that he’s fighting this illness,” Obama said Tuesday. “And it’s our job now to support him in the way that he has supported us for so many years.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “Ted Kennedy’s courage and resolve are unmatched, and they have made him one of the greatest legislators in Senate history. Our thoughts are with him and Vicki and we are praying for a quick and full recovery.”
Kennedy has left his stamp on a raft of health care, pension and immigration legislation during four decades in the Senate. In 1980, Kennedy unsuccessfully challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Kennedy family has been struck by tragedy over and over. Kennedy’s eldest brother, Joseph, died in a World War II plane crash; President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.
Ted Kennedy shocked the nation in 1969 when he drove his car off a bridge to Massachusetts’ Chappaquiddick Island and a young female campaign worker drowned. Kennedy, who did not call authorities until the next day, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a suspended two-month jail sentence.
Kennedy, the Senate’s second-longest serving member, was re-elected in 2006 and is not up for election again until 2012. Were he to resign or die in office, state law requires a special election for the seat 145 to 160 days afterward.
Associated Press writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report from Washington.
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