ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday that he will undergo treatment for what he said was an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hogan, who was surrounded by family and Cabinet secretaries, said he was diagnosed in recent days with “an aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma” — a cancer of the lymph nodes, which he said doctors currently believe is a “very advanced stage three if not a stage four.”
“I’ve learned over the past few days that this cancer is very advanced and very aggressive,” Hogan said.
“The good news is that although I’ve learned that this cancer I have is a very aggressive one and it’s spread very rapidly it’s also one that responds very aggressively to chemotherapy treatment and there’s a very strong chance of success. Not only a strong chance of success but a strong chance of beating it all together and getting rid of the cancer,” Hogan said. “The best news is my odds of getting through this and beating this are much, much better than the odds I had of beating Anthony Brown to become the 62nd governor of Maryland.”
Hogan called the diagnosis a “personal challenge…One that will require me to once again be an underdog and a fighter, which is something I think I’m known for.”
“I’m going to face this challenge with the same energy and determination I’ve relied on to climb every hill and overcome every obstacle I’ve faced in my life,” Hogan said.
Hogan said he had no idea of his condition before embarking on a trip to Asia in late May and early June.
Hogan said he discovered a “golf ball-sized lump” in his neck while shaving the day before leaving for the trip and went to see his doctor after returning.
Doctors found 12 lumps in his neck and another nearly three-dozen in his abdomen and groin area, according to the governor. The only symptom he said he has was some pain in his back which he thought was a pulled muscle but turned out to be a tumor pressed against some nerves.
“Thing has kind of spread,” Hogan said. “I’ve got a lot of them in my abdomen, it’s pressing up against my spinal column, it’s difficult to eat because I’m kind of full but I’m not terribly sick,” Hogan said. “It’s just something I’ve got to go after before it gets worse.”
Lymphomas are a cancer that originates in the body’s immune system; b-cells are a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies, according to the American Cancer Society.
Diagnosing a lymphoma at stage 3 – when they can be found above and below the patient’s diaphragm – and still leaves patients with a good chance of being cured, said Dr. Kevin Cullen, director of the Greenebaum Cancer Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
About 72,000 people are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphomas every year and most are cured with chemotherapy. After five years, 70 percent of those treated remain free of the disease, Cullen said.
The course of chemotherapy Hogan described is typical, the governor has “every reason to be optimistic,” Cullen said.
“I actually feel pretty good although I’ve been having procedures every day,” Hogan said. “I did about half of my schedule over the past two weeks but I missed things because they were sending me for required things.”
Those “required things” included multiple diagnostic scans and what the governor referred to as a “minor surgical procedure” in which doctors biopsied a lymph node taken from under one arm.
“Today I had a bone marrow thing where they stuck a 12-inch thing into my hip and cored out some bone marrow, so that hurt a little bit,” Hogan said, adding that he had been taking pain medication prior to his late afternoon press conference.
“You know, I still feel good. I’ve got energy and other than I don’t have much of an appetite I’m not tired and I’m not in terrible pain.”
Hogan said he expects to begin undergoing “multiple very aggressive chemotherapy treatments” immediately including four days of hospitalization and treatment over 18 weeks.
“Because of the fast growing nature of this thing, we can’t waste any time, we can’t wait,” Hogan said. “They try to give you as much as you can take without killing you. They want to kill the cancer and keep you alive.
“They say you’re going to go through hell and back again but you’re going to love it when you get back,” Hogan said.
Hogan said he expects to continue to work even as he is being treated with a few exceptions made for his treatment schedule.
“I’ll be working hard and making the decisions the people of this state elected me to make. The fact is, I’m just like the more than 70,000 people diagnosed with lymphoma every single year who fight it, beat it and continue doing their jobs at the same time.”
Last week, the governor canceled a Board of Public Works meeting and The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Hogan canceled some appointments on his schedule.
“I’m going to miss a few Board of Public Works and a couple of meetings but I’m still going to be constantly involved,” Hogan said. “There’s probably two or three days every month or every three weeks where I won’t be feeling so well probably and we’ll have to see how that goes. The rest of the time I’ll be working.”
Hogan said he’ll rely on Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who Hogan has referred to as serving as a partner rather than the more traditional role as defined in the state constitution, which relegates lieutenant governors to a position with no authority until a governor is incapacitated or dies.
“The role has changed ever since I became governor and we keep piling more and more work on him,” Hogan said. “I think he’s got more responsibility now than any lieutenant governor in history. Boyd has my back there’s no question about it. He’s the most capable guy to ever serve as lieutenant governor. He is going to step up and do even more. He’s going to fill in more at the Board of Public Works. He’s going to filling for me at some other meetings as will our entire Cabinet. They’re going to step up and do more things and fill in when I can’t be there.”
Hogan said if he has to undergo procedures that retire him to be unconscious, as he was during the recent biopsy, Rutherford will be available to sign documents and make decisions.
In the end, the decision appears to mostly left to Hogan. The state constitution allows for a lieutenant governor to assume the role of acting governor if he is notified by the governor of an inability to perform his duties or if he is unable to communicate that incapacity. The governor can resume his role by simply notifying the lieutenant governor that he is able to do so.
“I mean, if I died, I would say he is probably going to take over,” Hogan said. “I mean it’s hard to foresee unless I am completely incapacitated and unconscious and unable to make decisions then I’m sure that would take place but I don’t foresee that happening.”
Reporter Daniel Leaderman contributed to this story.