When Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) 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 -- the senator was working on a bill to overhaul the healthcare system, shepherding anti-smoking legislation through the Senate, raising money for what is proving to be a rough reelection campaign and fending off questions about his cottage in Ireland and his controversial home mortgages.
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 at the time was locked in her own battle against lung cancer. She since has died.
Dodd did consult several Senate colleagues who have survived prostate cancer, including Massachusetts Democrat John F. 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, Conn., 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, is to have surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York during the second week in August, after the Senate adjourns. He said he expected 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% 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. Dodd was adamant that his illness would not derail his reelection bid and said he should be back on the campaign trail by the end of August.
"I'm running for reelection," Dodd said, adding with a chuckle, "I'll be running without a prostate."
On Friday, his critics 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.
Dodd received his diagnosis last month when he was overseeing the markup of a healthcare overhaul bill as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He said he did not disclose his illness at the time because he did not want to become an example.
But on Friday, he pointed to his health crisis as evidence of the need to overhaul the nation's healthcare system. He said he was lucky to have comprehensive healthcare coverage that includes an annual exam, during which 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 healthcare debate because of the absence of Kennedy, chairman of the health committee.
Dodd, who speaks to Kennedy nearly every day, said he did not tell the ailing Massachusetts senator until Thursday, less than 24 hours before releasing the news to the public.
When asked for Kennedy's reaction, Dodd said his friend responded, "If I can beat mine, you can beat yours."
Christopher Keating and Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant contributed to this report.