Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday that 95 percent of his cancer is gone after eight weeks of intensive medical treatment.
“I aced my test,” Hogan said in his first face-to-face interview about his illness since his cancer diagnosis in June. Sporting a bald head and a wide grin, he added: “Ninety-five percent is gone, disappeared, dead. I still have some remnants of the tumors, but it’s dead.”
Hogan said his progress over the last two months, since doctors discovered 60 tumors the size of oranges, apples and golf balls on his neck, chest, abdomen and groin, has surprised his entire medical team.
“They were shocked at the results,” Hogan said. “They were saying, ‘We could not possibly have hoped for a better scan than that.’”
The Republican governor stunned Marylanders in late June when he announced just five months into his term that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer — stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The governor had noticed a lump in his throat while shaving on the final day of a trade mission to Asia. After days of testing upon his return to Maryland, doctors found the tumors and advised him to begin an aggressive treatment plan. However, they gave him a strong chance of survival — noting that, as aggressive as the cancer can be, it also is known to respond well to treatment.
In the interview, in Hogan’s office in the state Statehouse in Annapolis, the governor also offered poignant new details about how he has suffered through his illness — and how it has forced him to change his work habits.
He said he has continued to govern the state through the treatment, which have required five-day hospital stays every three weeks at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He has spent the last couple of months holding meetings with senior staff members either at the hospital, in the governor’s mansion or in his office at the statehouse.
A self-described workaholic who used to start the morning early and end most nights around 10 p.m., Hogan said he now finds himself working eight hours a day in the office, sometimes less. But the work, pouring over papers, continues at home, he said.
The worst days come right after his chemotherapy treatment, when he is pumped with medicine for his bone marrow.
He thought the chemotherapy would be painful. Instead, he said, the medicine he gets the day after chemotherapy causes every bone in his body to ache. It normally lasts around three days.
“It hurts like hell,” he said.
He said doctors have told him to take a break when he feels tired. The fatigue is probably the worst of his side effects. He takes 30 pills a day to combat side effects and to boost his immune system. His taste buds are muted and his sense of smell has diminished, but — much to his chagrin — he hasn’t lost any weight.
“I could stand to lose some weight,” said Hogan, who once called himself “weight challenged.” But the doctors have told him to eat whatever he wants as long as he can. In the hospital he routinely ordered pizza, wings — even Five Guys.
Hogan finished his third round of chemotherapy last week, marking the halfway point in his treatment. He said he will go back for another scan after his fourth round of chemotherapy, which begins next Friday.
While speaking, the governor grabbed his neck to feel the golf-ball sized tumor that had first indicated something was wrong. More recent images, he said, had found that the tumor is almost 70 percent smaller and “completely dead.”
Doctors are hoping that the next scan shows that the final 5 percent of the tumors are gone, Hogan said. But even if they are, he said, he has to continue with all six rounds of the 18-week treatment.
“They said they kind of overkill,” he said. “They want to make sure every single cell is gone and there is no chance of the cancer coming back.”
He said the biggest adjustment has been avoiding physical contact with people to protect his weakened immune system.
For a politician who is used to hugging and shaking hands, Hogan is relegated to an elbow bump.
“That’s the hardest thing,” said Hogan, noting that on any given day he used to shake a hundred hands. “My worst side effect is not being able to be me. . . I’m a touchy-feely kind of guy.”
Hogan’s hair started to thin after the first round of treatment. He tried to cut it shorter to disguise the hair loss. Then huge clumps started to fall out in the shower.
He decided to shave it off before his second round of treatment. At first he didn’t want to look in the mirror.
His main worry: What did the shape of head look like? Would he have a cone head?
“I was a little bit concerned,” said Hogan, who had thick, grey hair. “I hadn’t seen my head in 50 years.”
He said he was surprised by the response: Women called him sexy, people told him he resembled Kojak and Bruce Willis. His favorite is the person who told him that he looked like Mr. Clean, “the man with the line of cleaning products.”
He said he was hoping that people didn’t feel sorry for him. “They didn’t at all,” he said. “They were like, ‘he’s a bad ass.’”
Residents across the state have shown an outpouring of support, offering prayers and words of encouragement on Hogan’s Facebook page. He said he has nearly 12 binders of letters written by people who have had cancer, have been touched by it or are simply well-wishers.
He has received a note from President Obama, U.S. Supreme Court justices, governors across the country and leaders from around the world.
Hogan’s eyes started to well up when he talked about a 20-year-old man he recently met in the hospital. He has a 50 percent chance of survival. The man told Hogan he was a supporter. When he left his room, he asked the governor for a hug. Hogan obliged.
“A lot of people have it tougher than I do,” the governor said. He said he plans to use his governorship as a bully pulpit to help in the fight against cancer and to support those suffering from the disease.
People, including his friend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have taken pictures across the country wearing the lime green “HoganStrong” bracelets for cancer research. And restaurants throughout Maryland have displayed “Get Well Gov. Hogan” and “#HoganStrong” signs. A farm in Frederick County this week used Hogan’s image for a seven-mile corn maze with the words “Maryland Is HoganStrong” written underneath the governor’s face. The farm plans donate money from a fundraiser to the American Cancer Society in Hogan’s honor.
Later Tuesday, Hogan strolled pass the Capitol’s press room — calling an end to his work day at around 5 p.m. before heading home to the governor’s mansion. He made a point of opening his leather briefcase to show off the mounds of documents he was taking with him.
“I’m working a half day, he said, “but I’m taking plenty of paperwork home.”