An upbeat Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vows to beat 'aggressive' cancer

Gov. Hogan faces 'very advanced' cancer

Gov. Larry Hogan disclosed Monday he's been diagnosed with a "very advanced and very aggressive" cancer that has spread throughout his body.

Even so, the governor said, he expects to fight and beat the disease.

"Although the cancer I have is a very aggressive one and it's spread very rapidly, it's also one that responds very aggressively to chemotherapy treatment," Hogan said. "There's a very strong chance of success."

Hogan said he learned he has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma last week after returning from a trade mission to Asia. The first-term governor said he plans to stay in office while undergoing treatment, but that Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford could see increased duties.

"Most likely I'm going to lose my hair," Hogan said. "I may trim down a little bit. But I won't stop working to change Maryland for the better. I'll be working hard and making the decisions that the people of this state elected me to make."

Hogan, 59, hugged family and staff members after speaking before a packed room of reporters and staff at a hastily called news conference Monday afternoon at the State House.

"This weekend, like the rest of Maryland, my family celebrated Father's Day," the Republican governor said. "For me, even though I had some really tough news to deliver to them, it was a special and heartfelt time to be with family."

Dan Rodricks: Hogan announcement forces personal reflections in all of us

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which includes the lymph nodes, spleen and other organs. The cancer begins with an abnormal white blood cell and can easily spread throughout the body through the lymph system. More than two-thirds of people with the disease survive five years or more after diagnosis.

Hogan said he first noticed a lump in his neck while shaving the day before he left for the trade mission.

"I had a little bit of pain in my back, which I thought was a pulled muscle. Turns out it was a tumor ... pressing up against my nerves, and that was what was causing the pain.

"But I still feel good. I've got energy," he said.

The governor described the cancer as being in "advanced Stage 3" or possibly "Stage 4."

He said his doctors have laid out an 18-week chemotherapy plan that will "beat the hell out" of him but leave him "completely clear" of cancer. He said he would be hospitalized for four days at the start of the treatment, then a day at a time later on.

"As I climb this hill, I remain comforted by my abiding faith that the Lord continues to bless me and will be by my side with every step," the governor said.

Pledging to "Change Maryland," Hogan surprised many in November when he upset Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat, in a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1. An Anne Arundel County businessman, he ran on a platform of cutting taxes and growing the economy. He was in office for only three months when rioting broke out in Baltimore after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody. Hogan declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to restore order.

Hogan's announcement Monday began in a solemn tone, but he quickly began cracking jokes as he revealed that as many as 30 cancer tumors had spread throughout his body.

In the same forthright, everyman-manner that characterized his campaign for governor, Hogan predicted he may lose his "gray locks" and quipped that his odds of survival were better than they were as a Republican in last fall's election.

"My odds of getting through this and beating this are much, much better than the odds I had of beating Anthony Brown," he said.

Hogan had insisted to his staff on having a transparent announcement about the cancer.

"He was very adamant that this was the way it was going to happen. He wanted to tell people just straight up: 'This is what is going on, this is what I'm facing, and this is what I'm going to do to fight,'" said Russ Schriefer, a Republican strategist who had advised the campaign. "He's always taken a straightforward approach to problems."

Many aides learned about the diagnosis in a meeting right before the news conference.

"Everybody is shocked," said Steven McAdams, Hogan's longtime friend and current director of community initiatives. He said Hogan also peppered the private announcement with humor to put the staff at ease about his illness.

"He's always the one that's trying to lift up everybody else; that's him," McAdams said.

Both Republicans and Democrats immediately sent Hogan their good wishes.

Senate Minority Leader J. B. Jennings said he thought Hogan did a great job of telling Marylanders the news.

"He's going to beat this cancer and not let it beat him. He's going to take charge and keep working," said Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican. "He's no different than anyone else who has to deal with this and has to continue their work."

Jennings said he's confident that Hogan's decision to retain his powers but rely more on Lieutenant Governor Rutherford will work out.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he backs Hogan's decision to keep the powers of his office while having chemotherapy.

"The governor's a tough cookie. I've known him since he was a young man," Miller said. "We wish him the best. We want him to continue fighting."

Miller also said he and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats and sometimes political adversaries of the governor, will "extend olive branch after olive branch while he's undergoing treatment."

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who has sparred with Hogan in recent weeks, said she was "saddened" by the news.

"This is a moment for all of us to stand together in unity and prayer behind our governor," she said. "I got to work very closely with Governor Hogan during the recent unrest, and we all know that if there is anybody tough enough to beat cancer, it is Governor Hogan."

Hogan isn't the first governor to remain in office while fighting cancer.

In 1980, Ella T. Grasso, in her second term as governor of Connecticut, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After surgery and radiation failed to stop its spread, the Democrat resigned from office on Dec. 31 of that year and died about two months later at the age of 61.

In Maryland, Gov. Parris N. Glendening had a successful operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2002, near the end of his second term, during which doctors removed a cancerous lesion from his scalp.

Wishing Hogan the best, Glendening said Monday that "it's very difficult" for elected leaders to go public with an illness at a time when they are trying to work out the details with family and doctors.

"You'll be hounded by the press for every single detail," the former governor said.

Meanwhile, the work has to go on, Glendening said.

"The government doesn't stop, and deadlines don't disappear," he said.

Mike Morrill, a veteran Democratic strategist who served as Glendening's press secretary, praised Hogan for his candor.

"He's rising to the occasion," Morrill said.

He took note of the outpouring of good wishes of political leaders from both parties throughout the state.

"That's the definition of what's best about politics," Morrill said. "This is the place where partisan politics goes out the door and politics becomes the politics of friendship and support."

Baltimore Sun reporters Scott Dance, Christina Jedra, Andrea K. McDaniels, Talia Richman and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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