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Editorial

Raising cancer awareness in Maryland a vital part of Larry Hogan’s legacy | COMMENTARY

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer diagnosis with family members six months after taking office in 2015. File. (Joshua McKerrow/Baltimore Sun Media).

At noon on Wednesday, Jan. 18, Wes Moore will be officially sworn in as Maryland’s 63rd governor, which, of course, will also mark the end of Lawrence Joseph Hogan Jr.’s eight years in the job.

Serving as the first two-term Republican in that office since former Baltimore Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin held it more than 60 years ago, ensured a certain amount of conflict with the Democratically controlled General Assembly, but the outgoing governor nevertheless leaves the State House with an uncommon level of public goodwill. Time will tell how well that legacy stands.

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Certainly, his willingness to challenge Donald Trump and the conspiracy-theory-espousing wing of the GOP, along with his aspirations for a presidential run will keep him politically relevant — if not as a candidate for the White House, then surely as a cable TV news guest. But there is at least one area where his contribution to public discourse, and to public health, is undeniably solid and, one hopes, long-lasting. And that has to do with the very human, and classy, way he handled his cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Just six months after taking office in 2015, Governor Hogan held a news conference with his family to announce that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive Stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He noted at the time that his odds of “getting through this” were high and said they were much better than being named The Baltimore Sun’s Marylander of the Year, an honor he had earned the previous year after defeating then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in the general election.

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He explained that he had been feeling unwell and had gone to see a doctor to get checked out. This simple act — of seeking medical attention — may have saved his life. And in the months and years that followed, he was forthcoming with details of his cancer treatment and subsequent screenings, eventually observing that he was “100% cancer-free” and even posting periodic updates on social media including his “final, five-year anniversary PET scan” in 2020.

The experience not only revealed the governor’s humanity, it surely helped bring cancer — a disease that men, in particular, are often reluctant to talk about — to the forefront.

Health authorities offer all kinds of recommendations in regard to reducing the risk of cancer (to avoid smoking, to eat healthy and exercise, to limit alcohol intake and guard against too much exposure to the sun, and so on), but one of the most easily overlooked is to simply get medical attention when feeling ill. Perhaps you have a sore that does not heal, or unusual bleeding or difficulty swallowing. Or you might have a nagging cough or an obvious change in a wart or mole or unexplained weight loss. These are all potential signs of cancer that should be heeded, the window to successfully treat the disease narrows the further it progresses without detection. Thus, the governor’s very public experience was a useful reminder as well as a happy success story.

We hope the incoming governor and members of the Maryland General Assembly were paying attention, too. Studies have shown that Black men and women have a much higher mortality rate for cancer than their white counterparts (as they do for many other leading causes of death including COVID-19). Experts believe much of it comes down to access to health care and the legacy of racism. If there is no doctor in your neighborhood, if you don’t have insurance, if there is no expectation of medical treatment, it’s not surprising that early signs of cancer may go unheeded or opportunities for early detection lost. What better way to recognize Larry Hogan’s success in beating cancer, as well as advance Wes Moore’s promise to “leave no one behind,” than to make sure preventive health care and routine screenings, the kind that can allow others to beat cancer, too, are available to all regardless of income, race or politics?

Larry Hogan is not the only public figure to open up about his or her battle with cancer, of course. And it’s been disappointing to see so many of his fellow Republicans, whether in the State House or on Capitol Hill, resist broadening access to medical care including the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for insurers to cover preventive health care services such as colonoscopies or mammograms. But we believe the outgoing governor’s willingness to share his story may ultimately prove his greatest accomplishment in office, particularly if it inspires lawmakers to venture further down the path of providing early cancer detection and treatment for all.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.


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