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POLITICS Specter won't let cancer stop him

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Pa. lawmaker said he's ready for chemotherapy and baldness.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who started cancer treatment Friday, said he had been sick for months with headaches, fevers and fatigue, but that he had felt none of those symptoms until after the Nov. 2 election.
"I don't think I was ill prior to the November election," he told a news conference before heading to the hospital for chemotherapy. "I didn't have the kind of symptoms which I've just described to you, and I hadn't been at the doctor. I'd been on the road all the time. Also there was a pump-up about the election."
In a written statement Wednesday, Specter said tests Monday had confirmed he has Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph system, but gave no indication of how long he'd been feeling ill.
'I feel fine'
At the news conference, the 75-year-old senator said he had sought medical advice in late November after he started feeling "terrible," but that he believes his doctors did not suspect he had cancer until late last week.
He said he was determined not to let his illness and treatment interfere with his new role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The moderate Republican won a fifth six-year term last year.
"I feel fine, and I'm told I will continue to feel fine," he said, adding: "I plan to cut back to a 70-hour week."
Specter said he also did not feel well in October, when he underwent a CAT scan. He said the results were "pretty much negative, although they found some things in retrospect." He did not elaborate.
"It's pretty hard to remember exactly when you didn't feel well," he said.
A Specter spokesman said later he did not know why the senator went in for the October test.
Baldness coming
Specter had a benign brain tumor removed in 1993, underwent double-bypass surgery in 1998 and had a hernia operation in December, his second in two years.
The senator's oncologist, Dr. John H. Glick, was quoted in the statement put out by Specter that he stands an excellent chance of being completely cured.
Specter said he is scheduled to receive two hours of chemotherapy every other Friday for six months at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center.
"I'm going to lose my hair. There's no doubt about that," he said. "I'm now considering the alternatives of ... either a new sex symbol or wearing baseball caps, and my sense is to wear baseball caps."
Specter said he would make public any new developments in his condition if he thinks they are relevant.
"I have a very high regard for the public's right to know the physical condition of a public official who has public responsibilities," he said.
A tough year
His latest diagnosis came during a challenging period of his career.
Specter narrowly beat back a primary challenge last year from conservative former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, then had to overcome opposition from conservative Republicans to his appointment as chairman of the Judiciary Committee earlier this year.
As the committee's chairman, he has promised to be a strong advocate for President Bush's federal appellate court nominees, who were blocked by Democratic filibusters last year. The panel is scheduled to open hearings on those nominations March 1.
Despite his health setbacks, Specter remains active and has been playing squash nearly every day.