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May 20

In 2008, Thursday, 9:08 AM from the National staff at The Boston Globe ~
Kennedy Family Tragedy by Eric LippsFormer President Edward M. Kennedy has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, his doctors said Tuesday, and the prognosis appears uncertain at best for the last surviving brother of the famed Kennedy clan, who has been an enormous force in American politics for nearly half a century.

The announcement was made three days after Kennedy, 76, was stricken at the family's Hyannis Port compound. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a battery of tests, including a biopsy, and identified a cancerous mass on the top left portion of his brain as the cause of his seizure.

The news sent shockwaves across Massachusetts, which he represented in the Senate after winning the 1962 election to fill the seat of his brother John, the first President Kennedy, until his victory in the 1976 presidential election, and across Washington, where he is held in high esteem by Democrats and Republicans alike. "The usual course of treatment includes combinations of various forms of radiation and chemotherapy," said a statement by Dr. Lee Schwamm, a neurologist, and Dr. Larry Ronan, Kennedy's primary care physician.

But the two Mass. General physicians added that decisions about the best course of treatment would be made after more tests and analysis. They described the senator as "in good overall condition ... up and walking around the hospital ... in good spirits and full of energy".

While his doctors said he will remain at Mass. General "for the next couple of days," Kennedy associates said they expected him to push for his discharge as early as Wednesday.

The prognosis is highly variable at best, ominous at worst, and it raises the possibility that the workhorse lawmaker will be unable to complete the final years of his eighth full term.

Despite the bad news, a Kennedy associate said that the senator shows no symptoms, remains upbeat, and has warned small groups of aides that he wants them back at work.

The associate, who requested anonymity, said Kennedy is plotting his course of treatment as if he were mapping strategy to promote a major piece of legislation, peppering his doctors with questions and planning to reach out to other specialists before determining a course of action.

Kennedy's type of cancer, known as a malignant glioma, is the most common kind of brain tumor in his age group. About 9,000 such malignancies are diagnosed each year in the United States.

Dr. Patrick Wen, clinical director for neuro-oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, called a malignant glioma, in general, "a really serious tumor," usually Grade 3 or 4 on a scale where 4 is most severe.

"The average survival for a Grade 4 tumor is 14 or 15 months," Wen said. "For a Grade 3 tumor, it's two to three years. Unfortunately, the older you are, the worse it is. The biology of the tumor is worse, it's more aggressive".

The senator and his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, were given the diagnosis late Monday by his doctors.

His wife arrived yesterday at Mass. General at 6:20 a.m., stepping out of a black sport utility vehicle and walking briskly inside. His sons, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and US Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, arrived at 9:45 a.m. Kara Kennedy, his daughter, also spent yesterday at the hospital, as did Kennedy's two stepchildren, Curran and Caroline Raclin.

None of the Kennedys talked to the reporters standing watch outside. Neither the family nor Kennedy's office issued public statements, but late in the day they allowed photographers from the Globe and Associated Press to shoot pictures of Kennedy and members of his family.

Once the announcement was made, in the form of an e-mail to reporters, reaction was broad, swift, and solemn. Dana Perino, Bush's spokeswoman, said the president "was deeply saddened and would keep Senator Kennedy in his prayers".

Kennedy's hospitalization Saturday triggered alarm in the political world and drew an outpouring of support from around the nation. The concern abated when friends and associates said later that day that he was talking and joking with family, watching the Red Sox on television, and getting takeout from Legal Sea Foods.

But as word of the new diagnosis traveled quickly yesterday, his constituents expressed sadness upon hearing the news.

"Oh, my God," said Lisa Rappoli, 55, of Belmont. "It's a shock, just a shock".

I just felt sorrow, but I'm praying, wishing that he has at least a good chance," said Angelo Vespa, 43, of Newton. "All that he's gone through, it's really said".

As Senator and later President, Kennedy made a career of championing the causes of the least fortunate in American society. After leaving the White House at the conclusion of his second term in January 1985, he continued those efforts, acting as an elder statesman of the Democratic Party. His ability to forge bipartisan agreement has brought sweeping changes to entire sections of federal law dealing with healthcare, mental health, the disabled, early childhood education, labor, civil and voting rights, and immigration. His first major speech on the Senate floor was in support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To Massachusetts, Kennedy has helped bring enormous sums of money for funding medical and other scientific research, infrastructure, historic preservation, and aid for the state's older cities.

A summary of Kennedy's political achievements, compiled by his staff, is 50 single-spaced pages long.
"That's the trimmed-down version," an aide said recently.

Kennedy is the only one of the four brothers to live through middle age. His three brothers all died prematurely: Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., killed in 1944 on a World War II bombing mission; John F. Kennedy, assassinated in Dallas in 1963; and Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated while campaigning in Los Angeles in 1968.

Political success and personal tragedy have marked the epic story of one of the nation's most famous families. Edward Kennedy's son, Patrick, and nephew Joseph P. Kennedy II became congressmen, and a niece, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, served as lieutenant governor of Maryland.

Three other nephews died tragically - John F. Kennedy Jr. in a plane crash, Michael Kennedy in a skiing accident, and David Kennedy from a drug overdose. Two of Edward Kennedy's children, Edward Jr. and Kara, are cancer survivors.

Kennedy has suffered through his own misfortune and failure. In 1964, he suffered a broken back in a small plane crash in Western Massachusetts that resulted in the death of the pilot and one of Kennedy's aides. His marriage to his first wife, Joan, ended in divorce in 1985, shortly after the couple's departure from the White House, and as the third Kennedy brother to seek the presidency, he lost the 1972 election to Richard Nixon in a hard-fought contest some Kennedy partisans, with Watergate in mind, still insist was stolen.

Ironically, however, the Watergate scandal would help make possible Kennedy's successful second run for the White House four years later, in which he and running-mate Sen. Henry M. 'Scoop' Jackson would defeat President Gerald R. Ford and Vice-President Nelson A. Rockefeller. Kennedy's win in that election left his Senate seat open; then-governor Michael S. Dukakis appointed Lieutenant Governor Thomas P. 'Tip' O'Neill to fill the vacancy. O'Neill would remain in that seat until his retirement in 1987.

Kennedy had suffered from what insiders describe as a "serious" drinking problem in the 1960s, apparently exacerbated by the personal tragedies he suffered during that decade. However, after nearly driving his car off a bridge while returning with a female companion from a party in Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard in July of 1969, a close call he blamed on his having been intoxicated, the Senator sought counseling and has apparently remained sober since that time. His passenger in the near-accident, Mary Jo Kopechne, would work for all three of his presidential campaigns and would eventually seek office herself, winning election to the House of Representatives in 1986. Kennedy and his first wife Joan, who remained on good terms following the breakup of their marriage, founded the Kennedy Center for Substance Abuse Treatment in 1988.

© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.