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Specter offers helpful insight on cancer at book signing

Pa. senator encourages people to get a second opinion and use the Internet to research their illnesses.

Sen. Arlen Specter visited Wilkes-Barre Township on Saturday to discuss his book ‘Never Give In: Battling Cancer in the Senate.’

Pete G. Wilcox/the times leader

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Phila., knows what it’s like to be told by a doctor you’ve only got weeks to live.

Specter, 78, has overcome double bypass heart surgery, a brain tumor, Hodgkin’s disease and a misdiagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Pennsylvania’s longest-serving senator addressed about 30 people Saturday morning regarding the series of health problems he’s dealt with in the last 25 years before autographing copies of his second book, “Never Give In: Battling Cancer in the Senate,” at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in the Arena Hub Plaza.

“It’s quite a shock to know you have cancer,” Specter said during his 17-minute speech.

“You really are looking at your mortality. You are wondering if you are going to make it and it makes every day a lot more precious. It’s a bonus day.”

His 252-page book details Specter’s battle with a severe form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February 2005, shortly after he was named chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While undergoing chemotherapy treatments, the senator continued to play squash almost daily and go into work to chair the committee, which was responsible for conducting hearings for the confirmations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The best therapy was to stay on the job and maintain my regular activities,” he said. His cancer went into remission in July 2005.

A doctor diagnosed Specter in 1979 with Lou Gehrig’s disease, but after several months when Specter did not develop any symptoms the doctor said he made a wrong diagnosis. It took doctors three months to successfully diagnosis Specter with Hodgkin’s.

Specter acknowledged America’s doctors are among the best in the world, but he said science is not perfect. He encouraged people to get a second opinion and use the Internet to research their illnesses themselves.

“Don’t accept at face value what your doctors tell you. Take it with a grain of salt. Don’t lose hope if a doctor gives you the death penalty,” he said.

A long-time advocate for cancer research, he said the best way to deal with an illness is prevention. “If we talk about cancer and the cancer society and what we need to do, we can conquer cancer. President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1970 and had that war been pursued with the same intensity as other wars, I wouldn’t have gotten Hodgkin’s,” Specter said.

Breast cancer survivor Carol Marino thanked Specter for his support of the American Cancer Society by presenting him with a certificate of appreciation from the organization. “I think we look at everybody who survives cancer as an inspiration, but in particular someone that is in his position. He can do so much for cancer survivors,” she said. Marino has been cancer-free for 14 years.

A portion of all proceeds from Specter’s book will be donated to the American Cancer Society.


• 1963-64: Serves on Warren Commission as assistant counsel • 1965-1974: Serves as Philadelphia District Attorney

• 1980: Elected to U.S. Senate. Won re-election bids in 1986, 1992, 1998 and 2004

• 1993: A golf-ball sized tumor was found between his brain and his skull. • 1996: Seeks Republican nomination for U.S. President

• 1998: Undergoes double by-pass heart surgery

• 2005: Elected Chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee

• February 2005: Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease; he is cancer-free in July

• Nov. 1, 2005: Becomes longest-serving senator from Pennsylvania in U.S. Congress. He surpassed the record previously held by Boise Penrose, who served 1897 to 1921.

• March 18, 2008: Specter’s second book, “Never Give In: Battling Cancer in the Senate” is published

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