U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier says blood cancer won’t keep him from seeking another term

Then-state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, takes a photo during the 2014 Senate session. DeSaulnier was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after being elected to Congress.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Freshman U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier has recently completed chemotherapy to treat a common form of incurable leukemia, he said Thursday afternoon.

The Concord Democrat, who represents Richmond and Walnut Creek in the Bay Area, said he will seek a second term in Congress.

DeSaulnier was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia last July, he told The Times in a phone interview. He referred to it as a chronic disorder that cannot be completely cured, but can be managed like diabetes.


“I’m lucky that I have something that has an 85% survival rate,” he said. His doctors called it a “dramatic remission,” DeSaulnier said.

Beyond telling family, trusted staff and a few close friends — including his Washington roommate Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) — DeSaulnier didn’t make the diagnosis public until he gave an interview with his hometown paper Thursday.

DeSaulnier said his doctors urged him to wait to make his diagnosis public until they could see how he responded to chemotherapy. His doctors assured him he could continue working while undergoing treatment, and DeSaulnier said he wanted to see for himself.

“I have been able to go home every weekend except one, logging over 170,000 miles flown, held 14 town halls, had meetings with thousands of constituents and maintained a 99.1% voting average in my first session of Congress,” DeSaulnier said in a statement.

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common form of blood cancer in adults. It originates in bone marrow and spreads to the blood. If it goes into remission for five years, it has an average survival rate of 85%.

DeSaulnier went to Georgetown University Hospital’s Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington for intravenous chemotherapy two days a month, had blood work done weekly and met with an oncologist every few weeks, he said.

Spots of cancer remain in his bone marrow and spleen, he said, but treatment has ended.

“Chemo is out of me. There is no cancer in my bloodstream,” he said. “All we do now is monitor it.”

DeSaulnier won the 11th Congressional District seat in 2014 with 67% of the vote. He serves on the Education and Workforce Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

DeSaulnier spent decades in local and state government before being elected to Congress. The cancer diagnosis coupled with the dysfunction he says he saw in the House weighed on him.

“Being told this midway through my first year, that was a lot. It made me really consider not running for reelection,” DeSaulnier said.

Ultimately, he decided to wait to make up his mind until he had gone through some of the treatment.

“I didn’t want to make that decision at the same time I was going through other physical and emotional challenges,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I could do it, and I had plenty of time to make a decision.”

In December, he decided to run again. He is being challenged by RepublicanRoger Petersen.

DeSaulnier said he wants to help educate people about cancer, and persuade Congress to appropriate more money for cancer research.

“People need to know that lots of people are surviving for much longer with lots of different kinds of cancer. I‘m hopeful that I can have a role to play in advancing cancer research,” he said, adding that with treatment, he can expect a normal life span. “We’re at a tipping point, if we just pushed a little harder ... we could move the dial.”

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