Kennedy Has Malignant Brain Tumor

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor after suffering a seizure at his home on May 17, 2008. He is a liberal icon of the U.S. Senate and patriarch of the Kennedy family.
By Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the liberal icon who has spent more than four decades at the forefront of social-change efforts in Congress, has a cancerous brain tumor, physicians at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital said yesterday.

A biopsy of a portion of Kennedy's brain identified a malignant glioma as the cause of the seizure that hospitalized him Saturday, according to a statement by Lee H. Schwamm, the hospital's vice chairman of neurology, and Larry Ronan, the 76-year-old senator's primary-care physician. A glioma is the most common type of brain tumor, accounting for more than half of the 20,000 or so diagnosed in the United States each year. The prognosis for patients is poor, according to the National Institutes of Health.

News of the diagnosis swept through the Capitol as Republican and Democratic senators were attending their respective weekly policy lunches. Some senators later wept as they publicly considered the mortality of a man who has been at the center of some of the nation's most important legislative issues for nearly half a century.

Senators had been girding for major fights this week over Iraq war funding, domestic spending and veterans' educational benefits ahead of the Memorial Day break -- battles in which Kennedy would have taken center stage.

"He's a strong guy and has great heart, and we're confident he's going to be back here," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), Kennedy's closest friend in the Senate, said before his voice broke and tears welled in his eyes.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), 90, the chamber's elder statesman and the longest-serving senator in history, wept on the Senate floor. "Ted, Ted, I love you, and I miss you," he said through sobs.

The diagnosis was a grave turn of events after the weekend's developments. Initial reports Saturday indicated that Kennedy may have suffered a stroke, but that ominous news soon gave way to more optimistic accounts of the senator joking with family, eating a seafood dinner and watching Boston Red Sox games.

Kennedy's doctors said yesterday that "he has had no further seizures, remains in good overall condition, and is up and walking around the hospital." They said they will determine his course of treatment after further testing and analysis.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he received a phone call from Kennedy's wife, Victoria, at 1:05 p.m., just as he was entering the Democratic lunch. During the Republican lunch, news of Kennedy's diagnosis came across one lawmaker's BlackBerry. Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), who worked with Kennedy on immigration legislation but jousted with him on abortion, led the Republicans in prayer.

Statements poured out of congressional offices and Bush administration suites and from the campaign trail, expressing concern for the senator who has the third-longest tenure ever and is the surviving patriarch of American political royalty.

President Bush, who teamed with Kennedy to pass his signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind education law, and then broke with him over Iraq and the conduct of the fight against terrorism, said in a statement: "Ted Kennedy is a man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength, and powerful spirit. Our thoughts are with Senator Kennedy and his family during this difficult period. We join our fellow Americans in praying for his full recovery."

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), hailed by Kennedy as the standard-bearer of the legacies of his fallen brothers, John and Robert Kennedy, said: "Senator Kennedy has been a fighter for his entire life, and I have no doubt that he will fight as hard as he can to get through this. He has been there for the American people during some of our country's most trying moments, and now that he's facing his own, I ask all Americans to keep him in our thoughts and prayer."

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