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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces he has 'very advanced' cancer

Md. Governor Larry Hogan speaks at press conference, Monday, June 22, 2015. (WJLA Photo)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday he has "very advanced" and "very aggressive" cancer of the lymph nodes, but he said he will fight for a full recovery and continue to work as the state's chief elected official.

Hogan spoke candidly, choking up at times while also managing to keep a sense of humor, as family, friends and his staff filled the governor's reception room for the announcement. The governor, who has been in office for five months, said the cancer is B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"Over the coming months, I'll be receiving multiple very aggressive chemotherapy treatments," Hogan said. "Most likely, I'm going to lose my hair. You won't have these beautiful gray locks. I may trim down a little bit, but I won't stop working to change Maryland for the better."

The Republican, who won an upset victory in November in a heavily Democratic state, said he had noticed a painless lump along his jaw earlier this month. He also felt some back pain, which he said was caused by a tumor pressing on his spinal column.

Hogan said his doctors have told him he has a good chance of beating the disease.

Dr. Richard Fisher, a lymphoma specialist and president of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said Hogan's cancer is the most common form of lymphoma, and that most cases are diagnosed in later stages, as Hogan's was.

Treatment involves intravenous combination chemotherapy plus the immune therapy drug Rituxan, usually six cycles, every three weeks, as an outpatient. The main side effects are hair loss, possibly fever and low white blood cell counts, which often can be prevented with other medicines.

"Patients usually miss only a day or two of work every time they're treated and they're usually able to continue their fulltime jobs," he said. "The aim is cure."

Dr. Catherine Broome at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, agreed.

"Therapy has come a long way in the last 15 years or so. We achieve remission in this disease over 70 percent of the time," and at least half of patients survive at least five years, she said.

Somber members of the governor's staff filled the governor's reception room for a news conference announced publicly only about an hour before its scheduled time.

Del. Nic Kipke, a fellow Republican from Hogan's home county of Anne Arundel, said he was saddened to learn illness has hit someone he considers a friend.

"I care very much about him and his family, so on a personal level it's a kick in the gut," Kipke said.

Hogan was mostly upbeat at the news conference, puncturing the somber nature of the announcement by joking that his odds of beating cancer were better than his chances were of beating his Democratic opponent as an underdog in last fall's election, or of repealing the state's so-called rain tax.

He said he has been feeling good and has had few symptoms, but he has tumors, a low appetite and some pain.

The state's constitution enables the lieutenant governor to serve as acting governor "when notified in writing by the governor that the governor will be temporarily unable to perform the duties of his office." Hogan said that happened for about an hour last week when doctors "put me to sleep" for a medical procedure. The lieutenant governor also can serve as acting governor when the governor is disabled but unable to communicate the fact of his inability to perform the duties of office.

Hogan said he will miss some meetings while he undergoes chemotherapy, but won't stop working, like thousands of other Americans who undergo cancer treatment and stay on their jobs. He has missed some recent public appearances due to medical appointments and procedures, but he also has attended some events.

"I'm still going to be constantly involved" in running the state, Hogan said, adding that Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford will fill in more for him. "Boyd has my back," he said.

Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, contributed to this report

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