"I consider every day a bonus day"

March 17, 2008 6:45:50 PM PDT
A powerful local lawmaker has published a book about his personal health scares. Action News' Matt O'Donnell talks to Senator Arlen Specter about "never giving in."

Pennsylvania U.S. Senator is 78 years old, and has held the job longer than any other senator in the state's history. He has survived numerous health scares, including 2 rounds with benign brain tumors, a double heart bypass, and a bout with Hodgkin's Disease, a blood cancer, just 3 years ago.

Some doctors had said his chances of living were 35 per cent.

The Senator told Action News, "I had beaten two brain tumors, double by-pass surgery, and a lot of political opponents. And I decided I was going to beat cancer too."

The veteran Republican has written a book about his experiences, called, "Never Give In - Battling Cancer in the Senate."

After his diagnosis with Hodgkin's Disease in 2005, Senator Specter continued his legislative work, even as the chemotherapy took a toll on his appearance.

He lost his hair, and he sensed that his colleagues felt they were looking at a dying man. Specter described the reaction of his colleagues on Capitol Hill, "They looked at me and said Arlen doesn't look too good. I wonder if he's going to make it."

"Suddenly I found more interest in my hair style than my public policy."

But he admits his looks even surprised him. "I looked in the mirror, and I genuinely couldn't recognize myself." He describes seeing longtime friend, PennsylvaniaGovernor Ed Rendell, at a basketball game. "I said - Hello, How are you? And I could tell he didn't know who I was."

The Senator even got that feeling when he met with President Bush to discuss Specter's role chairing the approval hearings for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. "Look at his body language," the Senator said. "He's kind of turning away. He's almost got an expression like - I have to shake his hand; he's chairman of the committee, but... "

Specter finished his chemotherapy in July of 2005, and Matt O'Donnell spoke with him one month later, about his medical milestone.

"The best thing to do was work."

Specter says he will run for an unprecedented 6th term in 2010, when he will be 80 years old.

Matt O'Donnell: You would be 86 at the end of that next term..."

With his usual dry wit, the Senator replied, "Well, there will be a real question whether I should run at 86."

His book is intended to reach others facing cancer, or a serious diagnosis, "Get out of bed everyday, no matter how hard it is. Face up to what you have, Be a little skeptical. Get on the internet and get more information about your disease. Get a second opinion."

Specter attributes his energy, stamina, and logevity to daily exercise, which includes playing squash, and a careful diet. He also believes his hard work, distracted him from the pain. Some proceeds from Specter's book will benefit the American Cancer Society.