Ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said he will undergo five rounds of radiation therapy in Cuba this week to treat an undisclosed form of cancer before returning to Venezuela.
Speaking to Vice President Elias Jaua on state-run television Sunday, Chávez said he received the first round of treatment Saturday night and would be receiving the second round Sunday. He said he was responding well to the therapy.
Despite speculation that Chávez might face a prolonged absence, the 57-year-old leader said he would return to Venezuela Thursday, rest for three days, and then return to the island for another five-day session of radiation.
Chávez has said the treatment overall will last four to five weeks. He said the medical trips were not keeping him from “working everyday” for Venezuela.
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“This is part of my job,” he said of the treatment. “Part of my job is my life which doesn’t just belong to me, but belongs to the people.”
He also said he was counting on the help of Jesus and the prayers of his countrymen to bring him back to health. Chávez’s stay in Cuba coincides with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, who will travel to the island Monday.
Chávez has been battling an undisclosed form of cancer since June 2011, when he said doctors removed a baseball-sized tumor from his pelvic region. Last month, he announced that a second lesion less than an inch long had been removed from the site of the original tumor.
The government has never said what kind of cancer Chávez is facing or what — if any — organs have been affected. The lack of information has fueled rumors that the cancer has metastasized or might even be inoperable. Chávez maintains the disease has not spread and that the second surgery was successful.
In power for 13 years, Chávez is hoping to win an additional six-year term Oct. 7. To do so, he will have to beat Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles. Most polls give Chávez a comfortable lead in the race, but last week the Consultores 21 polling firm said the two men are now in a dead heat for the presidency.
On Sunday, Chávez vowed to win the race and said that the next six years of his presidency would be “grand, beautiful and luminous.”
Dr. Michael Pishvaian, an oncologist at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that potential side effects of radiation therapy are fatigue, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting.
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