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Rep. Kennedy: Dad's illness has united family

Rep. Patrick Kennedy says there's been an unexpected bright side to his father's grim battle with terminal brain cancer because the family has been able to spend more time with the stricken senator in recent months.
Kennedy Cancer
"In a different sense, it has been a very joyous time because we have had so much more time than any of the doctors had predicted," Rep. Patrick Kennedy says of his father.Patrick Leahy / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rep. Patrick Kennedy has found something of a blessing in the curse of cancer afflicting his father: The family has been able to spend much more time with the stricken senator.

"It's been a chance for us to bond and be together and share a special time together that we would never have had together had he been taken from us," Kennedy, D-R.I., said of his dad, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. "That's a big gift. (It) let us have the chance to tell him how much we love him. And him to be there to hear it."

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Kennedy the congressman said he considers it a great gift that his 77-year-old father has survived terminal brain cancer longer than his doctors expected. The younger Kennedy said he's spent most days this summer with his father sitting on the porch of their oceanside home in Hyannis Port, Mass., sharing old stories about family, friends and politics.

"In a different sense, it has been a very joyous time because we have had so much more time than any of the doctors had predicted," Rep. Kennedy said.

He spoke to The AP Wednesday shortly after attending a White House ceremony where President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to his father and several others. Kennedy's sister Kara accepted the award on behalf of the senator, who remained in Hyannis Port.

"I was brought to tears," the congressman said.

The younger Kennedy said he planned to rejoin his father and other family members Thursday on Cape Cod, Mass., where a public wake was being held for the senator's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died early Tuesday.

Shriver's death was a blow, but Kennedy said the family wanted to celebrate her life and make sure her life's work on behalf of the mentally disabled is carried on.

Members of the Shriver and Kennedy families gathered at her Cape Cod home for a private service Tuesday night.

"Eunice suffered a lot, and we had a real celebration of her life," Kennedy said. "The priest gave a wonderful sermon on how to bring faith into our lives through works."

Kennedy said it is a lesson his father has learned over his many years of public service.

The White House ceremony was the latest in a slew of awards and honors, including an honorary knighthood in Britain, the longtime Democratic senator from Massachusetts has received since he was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago.

"Irish guys are not known for their sentimentality and my dad's been a pretty hard driver his whole life," said Kennedy. "He's been able to soak it up a little bit and enjoy the victory lap he's had this past year, the great honors he's received."

"For his family it's given us a chance to just spend uninterrupted time with him where we haven't had to share him as much with the rest of the world."

After the award ceremony, Obama unexpectedly ushered Rep. Kennedy into the Oval Office for a private meeting.

"He shuts the door and starts asking me about how my father is," Kennedy said. "I told him he's understanding everything that is going on, he's following everything."

The congressman said he told the president his father's greatest frustration is not being in the Senate as Congress seeks to overhaul the nation's health care system. Health care reform has been the cause of his father's life. Kennedy emerged as a leader in winning passage of the National Cancer Act after he became chairman of the Senate's health subcommittee in 1971.

The senator's family has been touched by cancer over the years — two of his children, Kara, 49, and Edward Jr., 47, are cancer survivors. Edward Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12, and Kara had a cancerous tumor removed from her lung in 2003.

Patrick Kennedy, 42, has struggled with alcoholism, depression and drug addiction for much of his life, and in June sought treatment at a drug and alcohol addiction center in Maryland.

Before leaving the White House, Kennedy persuaded Obama to attend a major fundraiser the Kennedy family is planning in New York this fall for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, which will seek to educate the public about the Senate.

The senator's memoir, "True Compass," is also scheduled to come out this fall.

Sen. Kennedy learned he had a malignant tumor called a glioma after suffering a seizure on May 17, 2008, at his home in Hyannis Port. His prognosis was grim because the median survival for the worst form of gliomas is 12 to 15 months. The survival time, however, depends on the type of glioma. The senator has not released the specifics of his diagnosis.

After he was diagnosed, Kennedy gathered top cancer specialists and underwent an aggressive, risky surgery in North Carolina.