The person requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Paterno's son, Scott, last month requested privacy for the family after revealing that doctors discovered his father's treatable form of lung cancer during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness.
School trustees fired Paterno on Nov. 9 in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Authorities have said Paterno is not a target of the investigation.
Paterno received the cancer diagnosis several days later. His family has said that doctors are optimistic he will make a full recovery.
Paterno hasn't spoken publicly since his dismissal. The person close to the family told the AP on Wednesday night that Paterno "has a great attitude" and deserved privacy.
The Nittany Lions' head coach for 46 seasons, Paterno amassed 409 career victories for a Division I record. He turns 85 on Dec. 21.
Paterno initially announced his retirement effective at the end of the season, saying the scandal was "one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." The trustees fired him anyway, about 12 hours later.