University of California President Janet Napolitano, a former U.S. Homeland Security secretary and governor of Arizona, has been undergoing cancer treatment for five months and was hospitalized after suffering complications, the school system revealed Tuesday.
The UC Office of the President said Napolitano, 59, was diagnosed last August but did not say what type of cancer she has or respond to inquiries seeking further details. Her condition had not previously been made public and emerged after a side effect from treatment sent her to the hospital Monday.
Her office said Napolitano has performed her duties at full capacity and is expected to be discharged in the next day or so. The president of the 10-campus system has kept the chairwoman of the UC Board of Regents informed throughout her treatment, which is nearly complete, the university said.
The rest of the board learned of Napolitano’s diagnosis in a phone call Tuesday, followed by an email from chairwoman Monica Lozano.
“As you no doubt have observed, Janet has been able to consistently perform her wide range of duties and extensive travel at full capacity,” Lozano wrote. “Yesterday, however, she experienced side effects from her treatment that required her to be briefly hospitalized.”
A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, Evan Westrup, said Brown’s office was contacted “ahead of time” about her illness but did not respond to a request for more specifics about when the governor was notified.
Napolitano is entitled to privacy about her medical condition as long as she can reasonably perform her duties, said George Annas, director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University School of Public Health.
“This is both because medical privacy should be presumed for everyone, and it permits people to consider treatment options without having to consider how the public will react to each treatment decision and the effects of the treatment on the person,” he said in an email.
Napolitano, who previously was treated successfully for breast cancer, was a two-term governor of Arizona, serving from 2003 to 2009, before leaving to join President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. She was secretary of the Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013.
Before that, she served as Arizona’s attorney general from 1998 to 2003 and as the U.S. attorney for Arizona from 1993 to 1997.
Napolitano now oversees the 10 UC campuses, five medical centers, three affiliated national laboratories, and a statewide agriculture and natural resources program. She is among the highest-paid public employees in the state, receiving an annual salary of $570,000 and benefits totaling nearly $150,000 a year.
As president of the system since 2013, Napolitano has fought for additional funding for higher education, and she recently announced a policy saying UC employees will not assist government agencies trying to enforce federal immigration laws.
Napolitano has repeatedly sought to ensure students in the country illegally feel safe on UC campuses since the election of Donald Trump, who made immigration a key point of his campaign.
In the past year, she has faced ethics scandals involving the chancellors at two of the largest schools in the system, UC Berkeley and UC Davis, both of whom eventually resigned.
Napolitano was previously diagnosed with breast cancer and had her right breast removed in 2000. Four years later, she had surgery to remove her right ovary and an ovarian cyst, which was benign. She resumed a normal work schedule three days later.