When U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer after his annual physical in June, he kept the news largely private.
It was a busy few weeks - Dodd was working on a bill to overhaul the health care system, shepherding anti-smoking legislation through the Senate, raising money for what is proving to be a rough re-election campaign and fending off questions about his cottage in Ireland and his controversial home mortgages.
At the time, the five-term Democrat told neither his close friend, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who is fighting brain cancer, nor his older sister, who was locked in her own, ultimately fatal, battle against lung cancer.
Dodd did consult several Senate colleagues who have survived prostate cancer, including Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, but it wasn't until Friday that he went public with his diagnosis.
"I'm very confident we're going to come out of this well," said Dodd, 65. With humor and optimism, he sat on a love seat next to his wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, in his Hartford district office and answered questions about his illness. "If you've got to have cancer, I am told ... [this is] the best one to have."
Dodd, the father of two young daughters, will have surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City during the second week of this month, after the Senate adjourns. He said he expects to spend a day or two in the hospital, followed by two weeks recuperating at home.
The cancer diagnosis comes as Dodd faces the toughest battle of his long political career. A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed that many voters have lost faith in him: 52 percent of those surveyed disapprove of his job performance.
Dodd's supporters had expected him to spend much of the August recess on the fair and festival circuit, shaking hands and chatting with voters as he works to rebuild his image in advance of the November 2010 election. Instead, he will be home, healing from surgery.
Dodd was adamant that his illness would not derail his re-election bid and said he expects to be back on the campaign trail by the end of August.
"I'm running for re-election," Dodd said, adding with a chuckle, "I'll be running without a prostate."
On Friday, his adversaries put aside political differences and issued a statement wishing Dodd a speedy recovery. "We join the rest of Connecticut in keeping Chris and his family in our thoughts and prayers, and know he will return with vigor to the campaign trail when circumstances allow," GOP front-runner Rob Simmons said in the statement.
Another of Dodd's Republican challengers, state Sen. Sam Caligiuri, said both Dodd and his wife "will be in our prayers as they meet and overcome this health challenge."
Former Gov. John G. Rowland, who remained friends with Dodd even after scandal forced him from office in 2004, watched Dodd's news conference on TV.
"It reminded me how important attitude and resilience is in the healing process," Rowland said, "and like coach Jim Calhoun, a winning attitude and a lot of prayer goes a long way." Calhoun, the University of Connecticut men's basketball coach, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003.
Dodd's longtime friend from Connecticut, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, said she was pleased that the cancer was detected early.
"As a 23-year cancer survivor, I can tell you firsthand that cancer is a beatable disease," said DeLauro, who has beaten ovarian cancer. "And Chris Dodd is a fighter."
And U.S. Rep. John Larson predicted Dodd's hopefulness will serve him well as he battles cancer.
"It just shows what a remarkable person he is, with his sister's passing [on July 6] and dealing with health care and everything else that he's had," Larson said. "It's typical of Chris that he would be going about his business, and doing it and getting the job done."
Dodd had already received his diagnosis last month, when he was overseeing the markup of the health care bill as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He said he did not disclose his illness at that time because he did not want to become the focus.
But on Friday, he pointed to his own health crisis as evidence of the need for health care reform. He said he was lucky to have comprehensive insurance that includes an annual exam, where his cancer was detected. "I'm fortunate as a member of Congress to have those benefits," he said.
Dodd has taken a leading role in the health care debate due to the absence of his friend Ted Kennedy, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Dodd, who speaks to Kennedy nearly every day, said he did not tell the ailing senator from Massachusetts until Thursday, less than 24 hours before releasing it to the public.
When asked for Kennedy's reaction, Dodd said Kennedy responded, "If I can beat mine, you can beat yours."
U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd
Planned surgery: August, after Senate adjourns
Quote: "I'm running for re-election. I'll be running without a prostate."
>> Most common form of cancer, by far, among men.
>> 185,895 men developed prostate cancer in 2005.
>> 28,905 men died of prostate cancer in 2005.
>> Connecticut's prostate cancer rate in 2006: 172.55 per 100,000 men.
>> 5-year survival rate, after diagnosis, for all men: 100%
>> 15-year survival rate, after diagnosis: 76%.
>> About 1.8 million U.S. men are prostate cancer survivors
>> Detection: PSA test; digital rectal exam.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention