Kennedy Back Home After Grim Diagnosis

By: CBS
By: CBS

(CBS/AP) Sen. Edward M. Kennedy gave a thumbs up to well-wishers and kisses to relatives as he walked out of the hospital Wednesday, a day after the liberal Massachusetts Democrat learned he has a cancerous brain tumor.

A square bandage at the back of his head marked the spot where doctors performed a biopsy Monday that led them to diagnose him with malignant glioma. Experts say such tumors are almost always fatal.

The 76-year-old senator, the last son in a famed political family, was diagnosed with a malignant glioma in his left parietal lobe - which helps govern sensation, movement and language - after suffering a seizure in his home Saturday morning. Malignant gliomas are diagnosed in about 9,000 Americans a year.

Kennedy's dogs, Sunny and Splash, met him at the hospital door Wednesdasy. Hospital workers and well-wishers greeted Kennedy with applause. Before he and his wife, Vicki, got into a dark Chevrolet Suburban, he kissed his daughter, Kara, and his niece Caroline Kennedy, and embraced his son, lawmaker Patrick Kennedy.

The senator departed with a wave as television news helicopters followed his 75-mile trip south to his Cape Cod home. Along the way, he could be seen waving to nearby motorists from the front passenger seat of his sport utility vehicle.

Doctors announced Kennedy "has recovered remarkably quickly" from the brain biopsy. They said he will recuperate at his home over the weekend while awaiting further test results that will help determine his treatment plan.

"He's feeling well and eager to get started," said Dr. Lee Schwamm, a top neurologist at Massachusetts General, and Dr. Larry Ronan, Kennedy's primary care physician.

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explained on The Early Show that malignant gliomas are among the fastest growing types of cancer.

"There are cases where people have had MRIs for unrelated problems - totally clear. Just a few months later they reappear with some sort of neurological symptom and sure enough, a very large tumor is found," Senay said. That's how quickly they grow. They grow over weeks and months, not years, like we often think of most cancers."

Although the condition is serious, it's not necessarily a death sentence, according to two brain cancer survivors who appeared on The Early Show Wednesday.

"Don't write yourself off," said Dr. Bernadine Healy, an editor at US News & World Report and author of "Living Time: Faith and Facts to Transform Your Cancer Journey."

Healy told The Early Show: "I had surgery (when she was diagnosed 10 years ago), and then I also had chemotherapy, and at that time, chemotherapy was very unusual because the feeling was it never penetrated the brain. But one of the drugs I had was brand new at the time, and undoubtedly, it's one of the drugs that Sen. Kennedy will receive regardless of which type of glioma he has.

"The key thing is that we must realize that averages - what happens to one person doesn't dictate what happens to another, and let's be optimistic for the senator. I certainly am."

In an e-mail Tuesday, Vicki Kennedy told friends the grim diagnosis was "a real curveball" that left the family stunned even as Kennedy joked and laughed with them. She expressed pride in how her husband was handling the news.

"Teddy is leading us all, as usual, with his calm approach to getting the best information possible," she wrote in an e-mail Tuesday to friends.

"He's also making me crazy (and making me laugh) by pushing to race in the Figawi this weekend," she wrote, referring to the annual sailing race from Cape Cod to Nantucket.

The diagnosis cast a pall over Capitol Hill, where the Massachusetts Democrat has served since 1962.

Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of the Senate, wept as he prayed for "my dear, dear friend, dear friend, Ted Kennedy" during a speech on the Senate floor.

"Keep Ted here for us and for America," said the 90-year-old Byrd, who is in a wheelchair. He added: "Ted, Ted, my dear friend, I love you and I miss you."

In a statement, President George W. Bush saluted Kennedy as "a man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength and powerful spirit." He added: "We join our fellow Americans in praying for his full recovery."

Kennedy has been active for his age, maintaining an aggressive schedule on Capitol Hill and across Massachusetts. He has made several campaign appearances for Sen. Barack Obama.

"He fights for what he thinks is right. And we want to make sure that he's fighting this illness," Obama said Tuesday. "And it's our job now to support him in the way that he has supported us for so many years."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said: "Ted Kennedy's courage and resolve are unmatched, and they have made him one of the greatest legislators in Senate history. Our thoughts are with him and Vicki and we are praying for a quick and full recovery."

One of Kennedy's close friends and colleagues, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., told The Early Show that Kennedy would fight back against his cancer.

"He is still very much with us here. This idea that we're sort of engaging in a funereal kind of process here is something he is finding somewhat amusing," Dodd said. "He knows what he is facing here. He has been through an awful lot over his life."

Kennedy has left his stamp on a raft of health care, pension and immigration legislation during four decades in the Senate. In 1980, Kennedy unsuccessfully challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Kennedy family has been struck by tragedy over and over. Kennedy's eldest brother, Joseph, died in a World War II plane crash; President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

Ted Kennedy shocked the nation in 1969 when he drove his car off a bridge to Massachusetts' Chappaquiddick Island and a young female campaign worker drowned. Kennedy, who did not call authorities until the next day, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a suspended two-month jail sentence.

Kennedy, the Senate's second-longest serving member, was re-elected in 2006 and is not up for election again until 2012. Were he to resign or die in office, state law requires a special election for the seat 145 to 160 days afterward.

© MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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