Conn. governor undergoes surgery for breast cancer


HARTFORD, Conn. - Gov. M. Jodi Rell underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery yesterday at Danbury Hospital, less than a week after previously undisclosed tests confirmed breast cancer.

Because the cancer was detected early and had not spread to her lymph nodes, the governor is not expected to need radiation or chemotherapy, said a spokesman, Rich Harris.

"Doctors say the procedure went very well, and she is resting comfortably," Harris said.

Rell, 58, intends to leave the hospital tomorrow and return to the Capitol next week to deliver the State of the State address when the General Assembly opens its 2005 session Jan. 5.

The disclosure of her illness and surgery was a jarring coda to a tumultuous year in which her predecessor, John G. Rowland, resigned in July in the face of an impeachment inquiry, then pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal tax charge.

Unknown to the state, Rell had learned the previous day she had cancer.

On Thursday, while Rowland was in federal court, Rell broke the news of her illness to her daughter, Meredith O'Connor, who had flown home from Colorado for Christmas. The same day, Rell began telling close friends of the diagnosis and plans for surgery.

Rell knew that she might have a problem, but the cancer was not confirmed until Wednesday, a senior gubernatorial aide said. A routine mammogram conducted about two weeks ago discovered suspected calcium deposits, which were removed with a needle biopsy.

A follow-up mammogram last week showed a remaining lump. Rell's doctor, who was not identified by her staff, removed that lump and a second one she discovered while performing a biopsy. The second lump was diagnosed Wednesday as cancerous.

Rell's chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody, notified legislative leaders and members of the governor's staff yesterday morning that Rell was about to undergo surgery.

Before the surgery, Rell said in a statement released by her office that she planned to watch the University of Connecticut football team last night in the televised Motor City Bowl.

"My family is here with me for the holidays, and the doctors and I are ready," Rell said.

The doctors who treated Rell were not made available to brief reporters on the governor's condition or her prognosis, but physicians not involved in her care said Rell's prognosis appeared excellent, based on the information made public.

The five-year breast-cancer survival rate is nearly 100 percent for women whose tumor is 2 centimeters or less and have no cancer in their lymph nodes. Rell is less likely than a younger woman to have a recurrence.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing Company.

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