Cancer Battle Could End Coburn's Senate Career Early

Image: Cancer Battle Could End Coburn's Senate Career Early

Thursday, 09 Jan 2014 01:57 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Sen. Tom Coburn says he's "plenty healthy enough" to serve out his second term in office, but won't run for re-election in 2016, as he has indicated before.

The Oklahoma Republican has been privately undergoing intensive treatments for a recurrence of prostate cancer and may be facing surgery that could sideline him temporarily or permanently, according to Politico.

Editor’s Note: Obama’s Budget Takes Aim at Retired Americans

A decision about his future time in office may come in February, when he finds out if he will have to undergo major surgery.

"I'm a straight shooter," Coburn told Politico in an interview. "When I get ready to make a decision on what I'm going to do, I'm going to put it out there."

Coburn's health issues have come up just as Oklahoma's senior Sen. Jim Inhofe, 79, is dealing with serious health and personal issues of his own. The Republican went through quadruple bypass surgery in October, just weeks before his son, Perry, died in a plane crash. Inhofe has returned to work and plans to run for re-election, and Coburn, likewise, plans to keep working for as long as he is able.

"My health is good, as far as endurance," Coburn said. "Probably people should judge my mental health rather than my physical health on why you want to be here."

Cancer, it seems, has not slowed down the lawmaker, known around the Senate as "Dr. No" because of the positions he takes on many bills. Coburn has been on Capitol Hill since 1994, when he won a House seat in the Republican Revolution. He has been fighting both Republican and Democratic leaders ever since, beginning in 1997 by participating in a conservative coup against then House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Lately, much of his time has been focused on battling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whom he notoriously called an "absolute a-hole" at one point back in October.

Coburn believes he is "plenty healthy enough" to serve out his second term, which ends in January 2017, but jokes that he could still "have a heart attack and drop over," although he says his heart is in "pretty good" shape.

The senator has battled colon cancer and melanoma in the past and had brain surgery six years ago to treat a benign tumor. He says his current round of chemotherapy is "not near as tough as the other chemo I had."

Still, he told Politico he will learn in February what further treatments might be needed, including surgery. He has already begun discussions with his doctors, family, and close friends about what might be involved.

"We’ve had obviously some conversation about what the results — or what the potential result of his surgery is going to be," Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a longtime friend of Coburn, told Politico. "It’s going to be a major deal. This is not a routine outpatient surgery. Tom is going to have to take that into consideration, and I’m confident he’ll decide the right thing."

North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard Burr, another close friend, said Coburn still joins a group of lawmakers, which includes House Speaker John Boehner, who go out to dinner almost nightly on Capitol Hill.

"Health treatments are a pretty demanding thing, and I think Tom has always been one that gives 100 percent in everything that he does," said Burr. "If at any point he feels like he can’t give 100 percent to be a representative of Oklahoma, then I’m sure that will have an influence on maybe what he did."

Editor’s Note: Obama’s Budget Takes Aim at Retired Americans

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