WASHINGTON - Five rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries and spinal taps. Following five months of grueling cancer treatments, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced in November he is cancer-free and in remission.
But his maintenance treatment isn't over. Now, nearly one year since his initial diagnosis, the governor is still in remission and he sat down with FOX 5 to talk about his past year.
While medicine is more advanced now than ever before, the governor believes it was more than just the treatment that helped him recover.
Diagnosed with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an advanced and serious form of cancer, only five months into his governorship, Hogan let the public in on everything. He chronicled his journey on Facebook and wasn't afraid to attend press conferences and public events despite his changing appearance. All the while, as aggressive as the cancer was, he was as aggressive in fighting it.
But did at any point think he was going to die?
“I tried not to focus on it, but certainly the odds that they gave me, there was certainly a chance of it happening,” he said.
What he did focus on were the thousands of get-well letters he received. His staff put together binders of them. He received letters from President Barack Obama, other governors, heads of state and even strangers. There were also gifts of holy water, special prayers and comfort kits.
“I would sit in the hospital and sometimes cry reading them – tears of joy though,” Hogan said. “Wow, this is incredible. It made me feel like I'm not going through this alone.
He also told us, “It had a lot to do with me getting better. I believe in the power of prayer.”
What the governor particularly loved was meeting others in the same boat he was in.
“It was the kids that were really special,” he said.
Hogan told us about one in particular, 5-year-old Andrew, who had some advice for him.
“He said, ‘Governor, I know you're going through chemotherapy. I have been doing it for two years, so I wanted to give you some advice,’” Hogan recalled. “And he gave me a list of the top 10 things.”
Some of that advice included:
“Make sure you have your hugging person.”
“The funniest one was he said, ‘Make sure you get the numb numb cream before they give you the pokie.' I guess they rubbed something on him before they gave him a shot.”
Hogan made sure to heed young Andrew’s advice.
“I went to the hospital that next time and I said, ‘Hey doctor, I don’t get any numb numb cream,'" said Hogan.
We asked him if this experience had made him look at politics in a different way in terms of putting things in perspective.
“It makes me realize that there are things that are much more important,” he said. “I had conversations with the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, who would sometimes have tough battles with. They were both very nice during the battle I was going through on a personal basis. And I said to them, ‘You know all the things that we sometimes squabble over or we are having this disagreement on aren't really that important when you think about it.”
With a 71 percent approval rating in recent polling, Hogan is now the second-most popular governor in America. Does he think health has contributed to his popularity?
“I don't think it's really the health,” he told us. “I think it is maybe the way people seem to relate to me because they think I'm a regular person and I tell it like it is.”
Within five months of his first treatment, Hogan was back before the public again with another announcement – he is 100 percent cancer-free and in complete remission. Now the governor continues with what he calls his tune-ups.
“I have been feeling great,” he said. “I’m actually happy to have had the experience to go through it and I appreciate every day more than I ever did. I wake up every day trying to make the most of it.
“I got closer to my family and friends and I appreciate people more. I think there are other things more important than the day-to-day nonsense that you have to deal with in politics.”
Does he have aspirations beyond being governor?
“No, I'm just really focused on trying to solve the problems we have in Maryland,” said Hogan.
But he said he now has a new calling – to take on cancer on a larger scale by raising money and spreading awareness. Governor Hogan has met with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss his cancer moonshot initiative.
“There are incredible breakthroughs that I think we are very close to reaching,” he said.
Hogan said he is very glad he has been so transparent about his health. He said several people have told him they watched his initial press conference last year and they found out they had similar issues, gotten checked out and have been treated for cancer.
He said his only complaint now is that he needs to get in shape. The weight gain he has had is a result of the steroids and all the treatments he has been through.
The governor said he didn't take a day off and continued to work through his treatments, but he is hoping to take a little time off in the near future.