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Rep. Kennedy gets 'personal' on cancer

With mother ill, he lauds advocates

PROVIDENCE -- Days after Joan Kennedy underwent surgery for breast cancer, her son, US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, thanked advocates for making him support legislation for research and treatment.

''You helped me make this a personal issue before it ever became a personal issue," he said.

Joan Kennedy, 68, former wife of Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, underwent a lumpectomy Tuesday at Massachusetts General Hospital.

''She's in good shape," Patrick Kennedy said yesterday after being honored by the Rhode Island Breast Cancer Coalition.

His mother is at home with her other children, Edward Kennedy Jr. and Kara Kennedy Allen, he said. All three children were with her this week during the surgery.

Patrick Kennedy and his siblings sought permanent guardianship over their mother after she was found passed out on a Boston sidewalk in March with a concussion and broken shoulder. The family reached a settlement in June, agreeing that two trustees would manage her estate and a guardian would supervise her personal affairs.

Patrick Kennedy credited the arrangement with the early detection of his mother's cancer. Her health is monitored daily as part of her alcoholism treatment.

''I think we feel lucky because it was detected so early," he said.

The breast cancer coalition also honored the voting record of Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican. But Kennedy was clearly the center of attention as women handed him flowers for his mother and expressed their support. In a rousing speech, he told breast cancer survivors and their families that he was one of them, with the disease striking ''the woman closest to me in my life, my mother."

He called for more funding for cancer research and more attention to environmental problems that could contribute to the disease.

''There's no way you can tell me that the epidemic of breast cancer, that the epidemic of asthma, that the epidemic of autism is not correlated to some environmental catalyst," Kennedy concluded.

Later, he said his family's battle with cancer motivated him to support funding for genetic research that could lead to better treatment and prevention. His brother lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12. His sister, Kara Kennedy Allen, had a cancerous tumor removed from her lung in 2003.

''Both my siblings and my mother -- it's clearly something that I have to think of," he said.

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