Ted Kennedy's Brain Cancer

In 1969, he probably would have been elected the next President of the United States. Instead, he hosted a party for six young female campaign workers on the island of Chappaquiddick. After the party, he was driving 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne back to her hotel when he missed a turn and drove off a bridge. Kennedy, a married man, left the scene and did nothing to rescue her. The next morning, police found the submerged car with Kopechne's dead body inside. He was charged only with leaving the scene of an accident.

Teddy Kennedy was known for how much alcohol he could drink and the extra-marital affairs he had when he was married to his first wife, Joan. He once attended a Halloween party dressed as Barney the purple dinosaur and said: "They don't call me Tyrannosaurus Sex for nothing."

Prominent Family He was born on February 22, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of Boston mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, and Joseph P. Kennedy, a self-made millionaire who held many government appointments. Ted went to Milton Academy, a private preparatory boarding school. He entered Harvard in 1950, with probably the lowest grades of anyone accepted that year. He ended up graduating just a year ahead of my class of 1957. He had been kicked out for two years for having another student take his final exam in Spanish. I never met him because I was a commuter spending three hours a day on the streetcars, while he belonged to all of the exclusive private clubs that I never even knew existed.

During his two year suspension, he joined the army and lifted weights. He came back to school packing well over 200 pounds into his 6' 2" frame. He was much larger and stronger than when he left and was a good football player. After graduation, the Kennedy name helped this terrible student to be accepted at University of Virginia Law School, where he received his law degree in 1959.

In 1962, shortly after his brother, John F. Kennedy, became President, he took his first job ever. He was elected to his brother's United States Senate seat at age 30 and stayed there for more than 47 years, to become the third longest-serving senator in U.S. history.

Better Senator than Student In 1969, after the assassinations of his brothers Jack and Robert, he became the youngest-ever majority whip in the U.S. Senate and the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Chappaquiddick took him right out of the presidential campaign. In 1982, he was divorced from his wife of 24 years, Joan Bennett Kennedy. In 1992 he married D.C. lawyer Victoria Reggie and had two more children, Curran and Caroline Raclin.

In 1996, he authored the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which allows people to change jobs and still keep their health insurance. In 1997, he authored the Children's Health Act, which increased access to health care for children up to age 18. He also helped legislate immigration reform, criminal code reform, fair housing for the poor, health care and increased funds for AIDS research. He supported the "No Children Left Behind Laws."

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Kennedy sponsored the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act to prevent, prepare for, and respond to bioterrorism emergencies. He also sponsored the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and expanded Medicaid coverage.

Medical Conference to Decide Treatment for Brain Tumor On May 17, 2008, Kennedy had a seizure and was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a highly malignant brain tumor that has no effective treatment. On May 20, a news release from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston implied that radiation and chemotherapy were the only treatments for this cancer. The average patient lives not much more than a year after diagnosis.

On May 30, Kennedy arranged a conference of more than a dozen experts from six medical schools. He had done this previously for two of his children who had cancer. A son, Edward Jr., had part of his right leg amputated in 1973 for bone cancer, followed by radiation and two years of chemotherapy. A daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen, had her lung cancer removed in 2003.

The Mass General neurosurgeons are among the most famous in the world and they felt that the tumor had already spread too far for him to benefit from surgery. The Duke surgeons recommended surgery and Kennedy decided to follow their advice. I am sure that when Kennedy had his brain surgery at Duke, instead of at the Mass General, it embarrassed this world-famous Harvard teaching institution.

On June 2, 2008 the Duke surgeons operated on Kennedy for three and a half hours. They declared that the operation was successful and that Kennedy should experience no permanent nerve damage. Soon afterward, he gave a very emotional speech supporting Barack Obama for President at the Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado.

On January 20, 2009, at Obama's post-inauguration luncheon, he suffered another seizure. His doctors stated that "the incident was a result of simple fatigue." He alternated staying in DC for his job in the Senate and in Florida for relaxation. On August 20, 2009, he requested a change in the Massachusetts law to allow for his quick replacement. The law at that time called for a special election to be held within five months of his leaving the Senate. He insisted this proposed legislation had nothing to do with his health.

On August 25, 2009, he died at his Cape Cod home.

Kennedy’s Health History Ted Kennedy had horrible lifestyle habits. He did not exercise and was morbidly obese. He often drank too much alcohol which is a known carcinogen. Eight months before the brain tumor was found, doctors removed plaques that were blocking the left carotid artery leading to his brain. This means that his diet was horrible, his exercise program did not exist, and he ate way too much food. As far as I could check, he ate a diet that was heavy in red meat and sugar. He took medication to lower his high blood pressure and statins to lower cholesterol.

A person who suffers his first seizure over age 60 is at high risk for a brain tumor. Other symptoms include headaches and changes in behavior, personality or temperament.

New Treatments for Glioblastoma Multiforme Surgery does not cure this deadly cancer; most neurosurgeons reserve surgery just to relieve the horrible progressive symptoms. Surgery to reduce the size of this brain cancer does not make radiation and chemotherapy more effective afterwards. Kennedy lived for 15 months after being diagnosed with a glioblastoma, slightly longer than the average of one year. It is extremely unusual for a patient to live more than three years after diagnosis. The cancer grows so rapidly that it does not continue to respond to treatment. Normal brain cells continue to turn into tumor cells even after surgery. 25,000 Americans are diagnosed with gliomablastomas each year and fewer than ten percent survive more than two years. The bill for surgery can run from $100,000 to $500,000. While we have no cure for glioblastomas today, some areas of research are promising:

* It may be caused by a virus: Duane Mitchell at Duke University has found antibodies against cytomegalovirus in more than 90 percent of glioblastoma multiforme tumors.

* We may be able to switch off the cancer gene: Alexander H. Stegh and Chad Mirkin (no relation) of Northwestern University think they can switch off a critical gene associated with this cancer. In 2007, Stegh discovered that more than 90 percent of glioblastoma patients had an overactive gene called Bcl2Like12 in their tumor cells. He consulted nanomedicine expert Chad Mirkin who developed small interfering RNA which turns genetic switches off. The small interfering RNA are balls of RNA structured in a unique, ball shape that contains gold. They can pass from the bloodstream into the brain and then into the tumor cells themselves. Once inside the tumor cells, they fill up the cells and kill them.

* Using viruses to kill cancer cells and not normal cells: Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and two California-based biotechnology companies, ImmunoCellular Therapeutics Ltd and Tocagen Inc are using a treatment known as Delta-24. Doctors drill a hole in a patient’s skull and inject the virus which infects the cancer cells and multiplies inside them. Then they give an antibiotic that causes the cells to burst and die.

Ted Kennedy February 22, 1932 - August 25, 2009


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