BOSTON - Senator Edward Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour Tuesday in what could be the grim final chapter in a life marked by exhilarating triumph and shattering tragedy. Some experts gave the liberal lion less than a year to live.
Doctors discovered the tumour after the 76-year-old senator and sole surviving son of America's most storied political family suffered a seizure over the weekend. The diagnosis cast a pall over Capitol Hill, where the Massachusetts Democrat has served since 1962, and came as a shock to a family all too accustomed to sudden, calamitous news.
In an e-mail sent to friends, Kennedy's wife, Vicki, acknowledged the family had been "pitched a real curveball," but said "this is only the first inning." She said the family was consulting with experts and seeking multiple opinions.
"Teddy is leading us all, as usual, with his calm approach to getting the best information possible. He's also making me crazy (and making me laugh) by pushing to race in the Figawi this weekend," she said, referring to the annual sailing race from Cape Cod to Nantucket.
Kennedy's doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital said he had a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe, a region of the brain that helps govern sensation, movement and language.
Seizures can be caused by a wide variety of things, some of them relatively minor. The finding of a brain tumour - and specifically a glioma, an especially lethal type - was about the worst possible news.
Kennedy's doctors said he will remain in the hospital for the next couple of days as they consider chemotherapy and radiation. They did not mention surgery, a possible indication the tumour is inoperable.
Outside experts gave him no more than three years - and perhaps far less.
"As a general rule, at 76, without the ability to do a surgical resection, as kind of a ballpark figure you're probably looking at a survival of less than a year," said Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
In a statement, Dr. Lee Schwamm, vice-chairman of neurology at Massachusetts General, and Dr. Larry Ronan, Kennedy's primary physician, said the senator "has had no further seizures, remains in good overall condition, and is up and walking around the hospital."
"He remains in good spirits and full of energy," the physicians said.
An Associated Press photographer who was given access to the senator on Tuesday captured Kennedy, dressed in a grey sweater and dark slacks, joking and laughing with family members as he sat at a table in a family room at the hospital.
Vicki, Kennedy's wife since 1992, and his five children and stepchildren have been at his bedside.
"Obviously it's tough news for any son to hear," said Robin Costello, a spokeswoman for one of Kennedy's sons, Democratic Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. "He's comforted by the fact that his dad is such a fighter, and if anyone can get through something as challenging as this, it would be his father."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife, Maria Shriver, is Kennedy's niece, thanked the public for their thoughts and prayers. "What we do know is that Teddy is an incredibly courageous and tenacious man who will tackle this with the same determination with which he approaches everything in life," Schwarzenegger said.
"Ted Kennedy and the Kennedy family have faced adversity more times in more instances with more courage and more determination and more grace than most families have to," said Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.). "Every one of us knows what a big heart this fellow has. He's helped millions and millions of people - from the biggest of legislation on the floor to the most personal."
Kerry added: "This guy is one unbelievable fighter."
Kennedy, the Senate's second-longest serving member, was re-elected in 2006 and is not up for election again until 2012. Were he to resign or die in office, state law requires a special election for the seat 145 to 160 days afterward.
Kennedy has left his stamp on a raft of health care, pension and immigration legislation during four decades in the Senate.
Senators of both parties heard about Kennedy's condition during their weekly, closed-door policy lunches, and some looked drawn or misty-eyed.
Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the longest-serving member of the Senate, wept as he prayed for "my dear, dear friend, dear friend, Ted Kennedy" during a speech on the Senate floor.
"Keep Ted here for us and for America," said the 90-year-old Byrd, who is in a wheelchair. He added: "Ted, Ted, my dear friend, I love you and I miss you."
Said former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who happened to be in the Capitol: "I'm really sad. He's the one politician who brings tears to my eyes when he speaks."
In a statement, President George W. Bush saluted Kennedy as "a man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength and powerful spirit." He added: "We join our fellow Americans in praying for his full recovery."
Malignant gliomas are diagnosed in about 9,000 Americans a year. In general, half of all patients die within a year.
"It's treatable but not curable. You can put it into remission for a while, but it's not a curable tumour," said Dr. Suriya Jeyapalan, a neuroncologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The Kennedy family has been struck by tragedy over and over. Kennedy's oldest brother, Joseph, died in a Second World War plane crash; President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during in 1963; and Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. The tragedies thrust "Uncle Teddy" into the role of surrogate parent to his brothers' children. He walked Caroline Kennedy down the aisle.
A high point in his life came in 1980, when Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination. He eventually bowed out with a stirring speech in which he declared, "The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die." His eulogy for his brother Robert was equally stirring.
The low point was 1969, when Kennedy drove a car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island off Martha's Vineyard. The accident killed aide Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy at the time was married to his first wife, Joan, whom he later divorced. His failure to promptly report the accident, and questions about his relationship with the young woman, may well have cost him the presidency.
Kennedy has been active for his age, maintaining an aggressive schedule on Capitol Hill and across Massachusetts. He has made several campaign appearances for Senator Barack Obama.
"He fights for what he thinks is right. And we want to make sure that he's fighting this illness," Obama said Tuesday. "And it's our job now to support him in the way that he has supported us for so many years."
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton 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."
A timeline of notable events in Senator Edward Kennedy's life:
A timeline of Senator Edward Kennedy's life:
-Feb. 22, 1932: Edward Moore Kennedy is born in Boston, the youngest of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy.
-May 1951: Kennedy is caught cheating on an exam and leaves Harvard College. He enlists in the army and serves for the next 16 months and later re-enrols at Harvard.
-June 1954: Kennedy graduates from Harvard and enrols at the University of Virginia Law School. He graduates in 1959.
-Nov. 29, 1958: Kennedy marries Virginia Joan Bennett.
-Nov. 8, 1960: Senator John F. Kennedy is elected president of the United States.
-March 1962: Kennedy resigns as assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, Mass. He announces his candidacy for his brother John's unexpired Senate term.
-Nov. 6, 1962: Kennedy is elected as a Massachusetts senator.
-Nov. 22 1963: President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.
-June 1964: Kennedy's back is broken in a plane crash that kills his aide and the pilot.
-Nov. 3 1964: Brother Robert Kennedy is elected to the Senate from New York.
-March 1968: Senator Robert Kennedy announces his candidacy for the presidency.
-June 5, 1968: After winning the California primary, Robert Kennedy is shot in Los Angeles and dies the next day.
-July 18, 1969: Kennedy drives his car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick, Mass., and manages to escape. His passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowns. Kennedy later pleads guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, a misdemeanour, and receives a two-month suspended sentence and a year's probation.
-July 25, 1969: Kennedy delivers a television address to explain his actions at Chappaquiddick.
-Nov. 3, 1970: Kennedy is re-elected to the Senate, but he loses his majority whip position. He chairs the Senate Health Committee.
-November 1979: Kennedy announces his candidacy for the 1980 presidential election.
-January-August 1980: Kennedy wins Democratic primaries in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, California, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and New Jersey. The rest go to the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter.
-August 1980: In an emotional speech to the Democratic National Convention, Kennedy withdraws his bid for the presidency.
-December 1982: Kennedy announces he will not run for president in 1984. After 24 years of marriage, he divorces his wife, Joan.
-Dec. 19, 1985: Kennedy announces he will not run for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.
-March 1991: A woman accuses Kennedy's nephew, William Kennedy Smith, of raping her at the family's Palm Beach, Fla., estate. He is later acquitted of the charge.
-June 11, 1991: A conservative political group files an ethics complaint against Kennedy, alleging that he violated Senate rules by his actions relating to the alleged rape. Kennedy raised questions when he left Palm Beach, Fla., without speaking to police, who had made attempts to contact him.
-June 19, 1991: The Senate Ethics Committee dismisses the complaint against Kennedy.
-July 11, 1991: Kennedy's son Edward M. Kennedy Jr. says in statement he spent three weeks in an alcohol treatment centre because drinking was "impairing my ability to achieve the goals I care about."
-Oct. 25, 1991: Kennedy takes responsibility for "faults in the conduct of my private life" and pledges to reform his lifestyle, in a speech at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
-September 1992: A book by former administrative assistant Richard Burke depicts Kennedy as a former partygoer, womanizer and cocaine user. Kennedy calls the book "a collection of bizarre and untrue stories."
-July 1992: Kennedy marries Victoria Reggie, a Washington lawyer.
-Oct. 13, 1994: The Senate Ethics Committee dismisses allegations of sexual harassment and drug use by Kennedy.
-Jan. 4, 1995: Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy, son of the Massachusetts senator, becomes the youngest member of the 104th Congress.
-Aug. 21, 1996: A major health care bill sponsored by Kennedy and Senator Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), is signed into a law. The law protects workers from losing health insurance when they change jobs or from being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
-July 1999: John F. Kennedy Jr., nephew to Kennedy, and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, perish in a plane crash in the waters off Martha's Vineyard.
-Feb. 10, 2000: Kennedy is released from a hospital after being treated for bacterial pneumonia.
-January 2002: No Child Left Behind, in which Kennedy co-sponsored, is signed into law. The legislation is designed to give states and school districts more freedom over how they spend federal dollars, but requires them to raise student achievement.
-April 5, 2004: Kennedy says Iraq has become "George Bush's Vietnam" and compares him to former President Richard Nixon.
-May 4, 2006: Representative Patrick Kennedy, son of the Massachusetts senator, drives his vehicle into a Capitol Hill security barrier.
-June 13, 2006: A judge sentences Patrick Kennedy to drug treatment and a year's probation after he pleads guilty to driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
-November 2006: Kennedy easily wins an eighth term that will extend his Senate career to an even 50 years in 2012.
-May 2007: Congress approves an increase in the federal minimum wage, a longtime priority for Kennedy.
-Oct. 12, 2007: Kennedy has surgery in Boston to clear a partially blocked artery in his neck.
-Jan. 28, 2008: Kennedy announces he is endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president.
-May 17, 2008: Kennedy suffers a seizure at his Cape Cod home.
-May 20, 2008: Doctors diagnose Kennedy with a cancerous brain tumour.
Source: The Associated Press and PBS.