WASHINGTON — Americans at all reaches of the political spectrum Tuesday reacted with shock and sadness — but also with hope — after Sen. Edward Kennedy, the last surviving brother of a tragedy-scarred political clan, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
The 76-year-old Massachusetts senator, a liberal giant whose older brothers John and Robert were assassinated, remained hospitalized in Boston, surrounded by family members. Doctors revealed the diagnosis after they got the preliminary results of a brain biopsy.
The news hit Washington like a thunderbolt and ignited a nationwide outpouring of concern. Kennedy is the Senate's second-longest serving member and a prominent figure in American politics for nearly a half-century.
"I'm having a hard time remembering a day in my 34 years here I've felt this sadly," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called his colleague "an American icon."
Kennedy is expected to remain hospitalized for at least two more days while his doctors determine a course of treatment. The tumor was diagnosed as a malignant glioma, a type of brain cancer that's diagnosed in about 9,000 Americans a year.
Former Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates died in December 2004 after a three-year battle with glioblastoma multiforme, a particularly virulent form of brain cancer.
"Decisions regarding the best course of treatment for Sen. Kennedy will be determined after further testing and analysis," Dr. Lee Schwamm, vice chairman of the department of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and Dr. Larry Ronan, the hospital's primary care physician, said in a joint statement. The senator "remains in good spirits and full of energy," the doctors said.
The glioma was located in the left parietal lobe, according to the statement. The "usual course of treatment," said the doctors, includes combinations of radiation and chemotherapy.
Kennedy, who was airlifted to the hospital after suffering a seizure at his Cape Cod home in Hyannisport on Saturday, underwent a number of tests over the past several days. Doctors said he has had no further seizures, remains in overall good condition and is up and walking around the hospital.
Kennedy's wife, Vicki, and children have been with him each day since he was hospitalized.
President Bush was notified by his staff of Kennedy's diagnosis at 1:20 p.m. In a statement, Bush described Kennedy as "a man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength, and powerful spirit."
"Our thoughts are with Senator Kennedy and his family during this difficult period," the president said. "We join our fellow Americans in praying for his full recovery."
Kennedy's Senate colleagues struggled with their emotions as they learned the news shortly after emerging from their regular weekly party lunches near the Senate chamber. The Senate's longest-serving member, 90-year-old Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., cried and told colleagues he was "distraught and terribly shaken."
"Ted, Ted, my dear friend, I love you," Byrd said from behind his desk on the Senate floor. "Thank God for you, Ted. Thank God for you."
"I would not be sitting here as a presidential candidate had it not been for some of the battles that Ted Kennedy has fought," Sen. Barack Obama, who's on track to become the first African-American presidential nominee of a major political party, told CNN.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's rival for the Democratic nomination, said: "Ted Kennedy's courage and resolve are unmatched, and they have made him one of the greatest legislators in Senate history. Our thoughts are with him and Vicki and we are praying for a quick and full recovery."
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was also among Kennedy's well-wishers.
"I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate, and I have held that view because he remains the single most effective member of the Senate," McCain said.
The diagnosis was the latest blow for a family and a man dogged by tragedy. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and his brother Robert was assassinated in 1968.
The family's oldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., was killed when the airplane he was flying exploded during a mission to France in World War II. Kennedy himself was badly injured in a plane crash in Massachusetts in 1964, and his son lost his right leg to cancer in 1973.
Especially after his failed bid to unseat Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Kennedy has been regarded as one of the hardest-working and most effective leaders of the Senate. Though fiercely loyal to his Democratic Party, he's often crossed the aisle to work with Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, and has helped guide younger members.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., described him as "a mentor."
"Senator Kennedy approaches every obstacle with tremendous courage, poise and resolve," said Murray. "And I know his tremendous heart and spirit will prevail now."
Kennedy was first elected in 1962, when he reached the minimum constitutional age of 30, to fill the remaining two years of President Kennedy's Senate term.
He was an early backer of Obama in this year's presidential race, well before the Illinois senator appeared to be in reach of the Democratic nomination.
Kennedy confronted scandal in 1969 when a passenger in his car, campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned after the vehicle plunged off a bridge and into a channel on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha's Vineyard. Kennedy escaped but later received a suspended two-month jail sentence for leaving the scene of an accident.
Kennedy ended his failed 1980 presidential campaign with a stirring speech to the Democratic National Convention in New York, closing with: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
He returned to the Senate and, like his older brothers, became a champion of civil rights and advances in health care and education. He worked with President Bush to shape the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the centerpiece of the Republican administration's education policy.
Senators used similar phrases as they emerged from regular party lunches near the Senate chamber, describing their colleague as "a fighter" who's overcome past adversities.
"We as a family are tremendously concerned about Senator Kennedy," Reid said. "He's a model of public service and truly an American icon.
"He has a work ethic like no other and has risen to every challenge he's faced. And he's had plenty of challenges."
Reid said he wasn't surprised when Kennedy's wife told him by phone that Kennedy was up and walking — "with a bounce in his step he hasn't had in a long time."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Kennedy and his family "have faced adversity more times in more instances with more courage and more determination and more grace than most families ever have to face such a situation once. And every one of us knows what a big heart this fellow has."
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives and The Associated Press. Washington correspondent Dave Montgomery, 202-383-6016