Senator Specter Credits Exercise, Work for Helping Him Battle Cancer

Sen. Arlen Specter knows a thing or two about bad health. Spry and physically fit at age 78, he also has a few secrets about living.

In a new book, Specter, already looking ahead to his next re-election fight in 2010, chronicles the painful chemotherapy treatments that left him bald in 2005 as he played a very public role chairing the committee that confirmed Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

Specter, a five-term Republican who is Pennsylvania's longest-serving senator, credits getting up every day for work with getting him through the treatments for Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph system. He said he was motivated to write his book, "Never Give In: Battling Cancer in the Senate," because he wanted to be instructive and inspiring to others.

"I think we ought to let it all hang out because when somebody is stricken with cancer, or heart disease, or Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, they ought to know they are not alone," said Specter in an interview from his Capitol Hill office.

Specter, a former Philadelphia prosecutor, acknowledges early in the book that he's not practiced in the art of "sharing some of the personal details that fill this book." For example, he discusses problems with balance and mouth sores that he developed while undergoing chemotherapy.

He describes looking out a window onto Philadelphia as a needle was inserted into his arm for his chemotherapy cocktails while he had nostalgic conversations with those around him.

Cancer handed me "a stark look at mortality" and an "added sense of humility," Specter said.

"When you look at yourself in the mirror every day and see your face turning gray, and you're becoming pallid and you're losing all your hair and you're bald, and you've been told that you only have a certain percentage chance for living five years, (it) makes every day more meaningful," Specter said.

Specter said he first noticed something was wrong after his tough election in 2004, when he was struck by fatigue so intense he felt drugged and had to take frequent naps on a couch in his Capitol office.

At one point during his treatment Specter was so heavily medicated he called an aide from his hospital bed and told the aide to take him to Bucks County, Pa., so he could get some work done. His wife had to call the confused aide back and tell him not to come.

The senator finished his five months of treatment in July 2005, and has since been given a clean bill of health by his doctor.

The book was published by Thomas Dunne Books. It was written with Frank J. Scaturro, who served with Specter as counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The trim senator credits his wife of more than 50 years, Joan, for his healthy diet. He said he's long followed her rule to never eat standing up at cocktail parties, but to instead sit down for a real meal. He said he's come to view his almost daily squash games as the most important thing he does every day because he feels that each time he exercises, he's adding to his longevity.

"Health is our No. 1 capital asset, so to maintain a person's health is a very, very important item," Specter said.