By Susan Milligan, Globe staff
WASHINGTON -- A year after his diagnosis with a malignant brain tumor, Senator Edward M. Kennedy is "doing fine,'' the Senate's top Democrat said today, and Kennedy's colleagues say he is eager to push ahead with a sweeping healthcare package he has spent most of his 47-year career seeking.
The Bay State Democrat is continuing chemotherapy, which "is not unusual,'' Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters. Asked if the 77-year-old Kennedy's cancer was in remission, Reid said, "as far as I know, it is, yes.''
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, later clarified his boss's comments. "Senator Reid will leave the diagnosing to doctors. But he does look forward to the prospect of Senator Kennedy's return to the Senate as soon as he is able," Manley said in an email.
In sporadic public appearances on Capitol Hill and at various events, Kennedy has indeed appeared remarkably well for a man with an aggressive brain tumor. But his associates -- as well as medical doctors who do not treat the senator but specialize in cancer treatment, warn against using the term "remission'' for someone still receiving treatment for a tumor -- especially one in the brain.
Generally, patients aren't considered cured until they have been cancer-free for five years, said Dr. Deepa Subramaniam, director of the Brain Tumor Center at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. And even then, "there is long-term remission, rather than a cure,'' she said.
Kennedy has attended hearings and meetings, but has scaled back some of his public activities and his Senate work, dropping his senior position on the Senate Judiciary Committee so he can dedicate his energies to healthcare.
While Kennedy's dire diagnosis deeply worried his colleagues last summer, many have been encouraged by the senator's apparent energy level as he fights his illness. And Subramaniam said Kennedy has been a source of encouragement for her own patients.
"He is such father figure for the entire nation,'' she said. "At the time of his initial diagnosis, a number of patients [with the same tumor] came to me crying. Now, he's continuing to look so good, I am able to go back to my patients and say, 'Hey, I told you so,' '' she said. "He's a great inspiration to them.''
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.