Rolling With the Punches

By Vince Bzdek
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ted Kennedy has had to handle bad news from doctors before.

In 1964, he broke his back and nearly died when he was thrown from a crashing plane on the way to accept his renomination for the U.S. Senate at the Massachusetts Democratic convention. He campaigned from his hospital bed while recovering -- and won.

When his son Ted Jr. was 12 years old and losing a battle with cancer, his father made the difficult decision to have the boy's leg amputated. The son is now a strapping 46-year-old advocate for disabled rights.

Five years ago, Kennedy's daughter, Kara, was told she had inoperable lung cancer and only a year to live. Kennedy refused to believe the prognosis, and found a different doctor who operated on her -- successfully.

And now, after years of cheating death repeatedly, Ted Kennedy is facing a deadly brain tumor the same way he has faced every misfortune that has befallen the Kennedy family: with both barrels blazing.

"The man never quits," said a longtime friend, retired senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.). "He's indefatigable. He's a fighter. I asked him how he was doing, and he said, 'Al, life is a bowl full of cherries.' "

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), another close friend from across the aisle, said Kennedy told him: "I've been given a bad hand. But I'm not going to let it get me down. I'm going to fight back, and do everything I possibly can."

Kennedy, 76, has spent much of the summer in hospitals. The cancer, which was discovered in May, required brain surgery in June and daily chemotherapy and radiation treatments for six weeks after that. But the veteran senator has still found time and energy in the past three months to:

· Record an emotional video for the first day of the Democratic National Convention on Monday, recapping inspiring moments throughout his life.

· Fly to Washington in the midst of treatments to cast a decisive vote in favor of legislation that would prevent a sharp cut in Medicare payments to doctors. Several Republicans, moved by his grit, switched their earlier votes on the bill, giving it a veto-proof majority.

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company