State Sen. Susan Wagle filed for re-election Friday in Topeka, moments after revealing to her colleagues that she will be undergoing four months of chemotherapy in her years-long battle with cancer.
Wagle, R-Wichita, announced her illness to the Senate in a floor speech at the end of the annual legislative session. Within minutes after the session was gaveled to a close, she walked across the street to the secretary of state’s office to file her papers to run for re-election.
“Serving in this body is one of the greatest privileges I, or any Kansan, can ever have,” she told the Senate. “I am truly humbled by the faith and trust that my constituents have placed in me. I look forward to asking voters in my district to allow me to continue serving them as their voice in this chamber.”
Wagle said she’s begun receiving chemotherapy for a strain of non-Hodgkins lymphoma that is a different cell type than the lymphoma she has battled in the past. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, a network of organs and vessels in the body that helps people fight off infectious disease.
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Wagle said she felt a need to announce her illness to the Senate and her constituents so they would know why she would not be as accessible as usual for the next few months.
She said she plans to continue to campaign for re-election but will have to curtail personal appearances. The treatment she’s undergoing will temporarily lower her white blood-cell count, making her susceptible to contagious diseases that would ordinarily be fought off by her immune system.
She said she expects her appearance to change substantially due to weight and hair loss that accompany the treatments.
Wagle joked about that on the Senate floor, saying that she’d be able to do her hair in the morning as quickly as her bald male colleagues.
Wagle said she will wear wigs during her treatment and “I may even use this as an opportunity to try life as a blonde or a redhead.
“I will not be depressed or whine about my bald head,” she said. “Instead I will be glad that I don’t have to shave my legs. And, when I feel nauseated, I am not going to feel sorry for myself. Instead, I’m going to think of a certain dress that was tight the last time I wore it, knowing the next time I wear it, it will be a perfect fit.”
In an interview following her Senate speech, Wagle was upbeat.
She said she draws inspiration from her 21-year-old son Paul, who underwent aggressive treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia, a form of blood cancer, when he was 10 and 13.
“Hey, you know what, it’s temporary,” Wagle said of her treatment. “My son, his first chemotherapy regimen was two years long. This is like four months, done in September, so this is nothing like what pediatric cancer patients go through.”
Although she has remained a senator throughout her cancer battles, Wagle passed up a chance to become Senate president in 2004 to tend to her son’s illness.
She has battled her own non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which doctors initially told her would be incurable, since 1996.
That cancer went into remission, and therapy with new drugs has kept the disease in check, Wagle said.
The non-Hodgkins lymphoma she is fighting now is a different cell type than her previous cancer and she said her doctor is confident that it is a curable variety.
Colleagues from both sides of the political divide wished Wagle well in her current fight with cancer.
Chemotherapy “is very hard on your body,” said Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, who has undergone the treatment in a lengthy fight against the disease lupus. “I certainly feel for her. I’ll be praying for her and supporting her.”
Finney has continued working as a legislator during her treatments and said she felt it helped her cope with the illness.
“It’s good for your mind to keep busy and keep working and actually trying to help others,” Finney said.
Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, said Wagle’s announcement came as a surprise to most of the Senate.
“We’re certainly going to be praying for the restoration of her health,” Kelsey said. “She fought this battle very bravely before and won, and I hope that happens again.”