‘I’m a fighter,’ says Alcee Hastings. That’s all you need to know about his health and what’s to come.
When I entered the foyer at the Marriott City Place in West Palm Beach on Father’s Day, I was stunned when I heard someone call out my name. To my surprise, it was Congressman Alcee Hastings.
“Daphne! How are you doing?” he said twice. Lord knows I really didn’t expect to see the congressman. It was as though he had read my mind.
Would he come?
Yes, I knew he was supposed to be honored as Father of the Year by his longtime friend, Everee Jimerson Clarke, founder and president of the Pleasant City Family Reunion Committee. I came to the event hoping on a wing and a prayer that he would be there.
But truth is, I didn’t think he would come. I know his health is impaired, and I figured the chances of him actually showing up were slim to none.
But still I went. And before I could land my two feet in the doors good, his voice called out to me as if to shout, “See, I’m here!” I was tickled pink!
A burning question
As we exchanged pleasantries, I pondered whether to ask him about his current state of health. But as a journalist I knew I had to. I knew it was what the people were curious about and concerned about.
Was he beating it? Had it taken its toll on him? Did he look the same? These questions, I knew, were on the minds of the people who’d watched this giant of a man for years. Somehow, even if gently, I had to broach the subject.
“Congressman, in January you went public with a serious illness. May I ask you how you are today?” That’s how I framed it.
It was January when he first went public with having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer. The news broke the hearts of many of his diehard fans and supporters.
But he was courageous enough to let the public in on this news, issuing the following statement.
“I was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and in the midst of this traumatizing news, I found myself wondering not only if I would survive this disease, but also if it would impact my ability to perform my duties. Now that I have begun treatment, I feel hopeful about survival and about my ability to continue serving my constituents of Florida’s 20th Congressional district and the nation.
“My doctors have stated that the advancement in the treatment of cancer is evolutionary and the success rates continue to climb, resulting in a dramatic decrease in the number of cancer-related deaths.
“I have been convinced that this is a battle worth fighting, and my life is defined by fighting battles worth fighting. Should it become clear that this cancer which has invaded my body cannot be defeated, I will tell you so.
“I release this statement, because I want to be the source providing you with this information. I ask for your prayers at this time.”
His statement was honest, sincere, forthcoming. He acknowledged his need for prayers because with any form of cancer – especially pancreatic cancer –you need more than doctors. (He is being treated at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.)
At the banquet
Back to the Father’s Day tribute.
Congressman Hastings was being honored as a biological father to three as well as a father of the greater community. After he verbally dabbled a bit in the politics of the day, he ended his speech by summing up his life as of that moment.
“I’m fighting another battle. A battle with cancer,” he said, subdued and soberly. And with that, he concluded his remarks.
Hastings is a man whose fight for justice has spanned over five decades. He’s faced serious personal and professional challenges. But now he acknowledges he’s in a fight for his life.
All about survival
The good news is that the survival rates for pancreatic cancer have improved from decade to decade. The bad news is that nearly all statistics show the disease as largely incurable.
According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is just 20 percent; the five-year survival rate, just 7 percent.
The statistics are dismal. But as he told me in his own words, “Daphne, I’m a fighter.” He continued to say that on this particular day, it was a good day – implying that some days are not so good.
“I feel fine today,” he quipped. “I’m outperforming this. The cancer is responding well to treatment and I’ve outdone what the doctors expected. The doctors say the tumor is ‘quiet.’ It’s not metastasizing (spreading) so that’s great. At the end of June, we’ll see where things are.”
Standing with him
While waiting for the start of the Father’s Day event, wellwishers shook his hand and told him they were in his corner and praying for him. He graciously accepted their prayers and sentiments.
Palm Beach County Mayor Mack Bernard said at an event this week that Hastings certainly has his backing during this difficult period.
“He has been a legend in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. He has fought the fight for every resident,” said Mayor Bernard. “We should all pray for him as he recovers from this devastating illness. We have to fight for him, just as he’s fought for us for all these years. We are certainly believing in the best for him during this trying time.”
Praying for containment
Priscilla Taylor, former county commissioner and county mayor, echoed those sentiments. She considers the congressman as a valued friend.
“I have always respected Alcee. He has continually been a strong voice fighting for…the minority community. Many of us in the political arena have sought his wise counsel on a number of occasions, including myself. I’m praying for him and that this illness be contained, as he told me it is.”
Alcee Lamar Hastings continues to ask for the public’s prayers as he endures his latest trial. But as he stated in his own words, “It’s a battle worth fighting for.”
I believe there’s more for this warrior to do for himself and on behalf of the people who have depended on his strong voice year after year. I know I’ll see him around.