Maryland governor's challenge: Balance work, cancer therapy

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Posted: Jun 23, 2015 4:38 PM
Maryland governor's challenge: Balance work, cancer therapy

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan dropped the bombshell news Monday that he has "very advanced" and "very aggressive" cancer of the lymph nodes, he pledged to keep working and to balance his cancer treatment with the pressing demands of his new administration.

While his attitude was upbeat, it remains to be seen how well Hogan will be able to govern while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments.

In his favor, he has his first legislative session and overseas trip behind him, no immediate political duties and a supportive staff, including a lieutenant governor he likes and relies on as a steady backup.

Yet he also faces ongoing challenges, including a big upcoming decision on a light rail project and the continuing fallout from the death of a man injured in Baltimore police custody.

"His request of us was to just continue to do our jobs, which we will," Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said Tuesday as he filled in for Hogan at a Board of Public Works meeting. "We will continue to do that as he goes through this process, and he will continue to work. I'm quite sure of that."

Still, Maryland's government business can move briskly, even in the summer between legislative sessions, which run from January to mid-April. A major decision on whether to move forward with a $2.45 billion light rail project in the crowded Maryland suburbs of the nation's capital had been expected by the end of the month.

When Hogan announced that he had B-cell Hodgkin lymphoma, he was blunt about the difficulties he will face.

"It's a tough time to go through, and I'm going to miss a few meetings, but, you know, I'm going to have every capacity to make decisions," Hogan said. "I'll be in a lot of meetings. You'll still see me at events. I'll be still working most of the time."

The state's Board of Public Works meeting was postponed last week because the governor could not attend, and Rutherford was out of the state. A vote on authorizing $20 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund to cover expenses related to the April rioting in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray had been planned for last week's meeting. The board approved the money at Tuesday's meeting.

Hogan, a Republican who just finished is fifth month in office, was vigilant during the unrest. He met with residents on the street, oversaw a National Guard deployment to restore order and stayed late at the state's emergency management headquarters in Baltimore County. That kind of pace could be hard to maintain.

People who have had the same kind of cancer that Hogan faces say the treatment is fatiguing and time-consuming. Chris Natzel, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June of 2012, questioned how well a governor could juggle the treatment with official duties, though he noted people respond to treatment differently.

"He's obviously a successful man," said Natzel, of Bad Axe, Michigan. "He's got help, and he can make decisions from a hospital bed, but it'll limit appearances, because of the time involved."

Hogan said his doctors have laid out a treatment process lasting more four months. He already has started working more from home, a short walk across the street from the statehouse.

"What's been happening, even with my treatment in the past 10 days, they're shuffling piles of documents back and forth like every hour," Hogan said Monday. "I say to the state troopers: 'Are you kidding me? Another pile of homework?' So, I'm making decisions and getting things done, even when I'm not here."

Other governors have carried on state business in a similar way when faced with health setbacks.

In 2014, hip surgery left Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in a half-body cast for several weeks during the legislative session. Dayton operated out of the governor's mansion in sweat pants but still took face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, citizens and other officials who came his way.

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Associated Press Writers Juliet Linderman in Baltimore and Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minnesota contributed to this report.