Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ted Kennedy Gravely Ill

Image credit: Senator Kennedy's official Senate website.

On Saturday I wrote that Senator Edward Kennedy, who collapsed early Saturday, was out of iminent danger. I chose those words carefully, though, and apparently it was only imminent danger that he was out of. The New York Times reports:

Tests performed over the weekend at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston indicated that Mr. Kennedy, 76, has a type of cancer known as a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe, the upper left portion of his brain.

Senator Kennedy Has Malignant Brain Tumor

Perhaps ironically, Senator Kennedy has spent much of his Senate career trying to improve health care, particularly for average Americans:

Now, as he is undergoing further tests in Massachusetts General Hospital -- an institution he has done much to fund over the years -- and prepares to battle a disease for which he has done more than any other legislator to fight, Kennedy and his legacy are on the minds of one and all in Washington.

Analysis: Senator Kennedy's lasting legacy

The Boston Globe's analysis goes on to say that one of Kennedy's greatest achievements was his ability to be effective even when his party was in the minority. Maybe no better example of how well he worked with his fellow Senators can be found than this quote:

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has shed tears as he deals with the news that Sen. Edward Kennedy has a brain tumor.

In Washington, Hatch tells the Deseret News that he loves Kennedy "like a brother." He says the news is terrible.

Hatch says Kennedy is 'like a brother'

I've sent e-mails to Senator Kennedy on a couple of occasions, thanking him for support of this or that legislation. In contrast to most Senators, who generally ignore communications from out of state, Kennedy's office always responded politely. Political relationships were important to him, and he always seemed to realize that the bothersome writer from out of state today could be a supporter or an ally tomorrow.

Should we be talking about Ted Kennedy's legacy yet? I hope not, but the prognosis isn't good:

Dr. John Golfinos, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the New York University Cancer Institute, said malignant glioma could be difficult to beat.

“Typically, the outlook is not that great for this disease,” said Dr. Golfinos.

Dr. Golfinos said he could not speak about Senator Kennedy’s case specifically, but in general, a patient’s prognosis depends on a number of factors, including age and a general description known as performance status. He said there is no common screening test to discover the presence of such a tumor, and that for most people who develop one, no cause is ever identified.

Although a large number of promising treatments have been developed in recent years, Dr. Golfinos said the long-term survival rates have not improved greatly so far.

“It is still a difficult one, so the prognosis has not improved that much,” he said.

Senator Kennedy Has Malignant Brain Tumor

Another brain cancer expert elaborates:

According to Dr. Lara Kunschner, a brain cancer specialist at Allegheny General Hospital, malignant gliomas are increasingly prevalent in the elderly.


"In general, in Sen. Kennedy's age group, it would suggest he has a rapidly progressive brain tumor," Dr. Kunschner said. "With maximal treatment, the average survival would be somewhere between one and two years."

Kennedy's treatment will be decided after more tests, but typically people will get radiation and chemotherapy. It might keep him alive a bit longer, but it won't be curative.

Doctors: Prognosis Grim For Senator's Brain Cancer

My thoughts are with him and his family. In contrast to the Associated Press, I'm not planning on writing a retrospective just yet, though. If heart and spirit mean anything here, we may have Ted Kennedy around for a good deal longer.

UPDATE (May 21): If you want to pass along your good wishes for Senator Kennedy, you can do it at his Senate website. Javascript is required.

UPDATE (Aug. 21, 2009): For a recent update about Sen. Kennedy, try here.

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