Judge's cancer overstated, doctor says

May 15, 1994|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The doctor for Judge Richard S. Arnold, whom President Clinton said he dropped from consideration for a Supreme Court nomination because the judge has cancer, said yesterday that Mr. Clinton made the judge's condition sound "more grave" than it is.

In his announcement Friday appointing to the high court Stephen G. Breyer, a federal appellate judge from Boston, Mr. Clinton said he had considered but ultimately ruled out the 58-year-old Judge Arnold, his longtime friend from Arkansas, because he "has cancer and is now undergoing a course of treatment."

Dr. Bill L. Tranum, a Little Rock oncologist who has been treating Judge Arnold for lymphoma, along with doctors at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, said the judge has lived with the disease for nearly 20 years. Although the lymphoma is not in remission and Judge Arnold has been taking chemotherapy pills, Dr. Tranum said, the judge has never had symptoms that have kept him from working.

And Dr. Tranum said that, given Judge Arnold's long history with the disease, there was no reason to believe that it was "going to suddenlychange character" and become life-threatening.

"He is in the good category," said the doctor, who spoke to Mr. Clinton Wednesday about the judge's condition. "The disease is very indolent, he hasn't lost work because of it, and he's not symptomatic.

"I thought [President Clinton] sounded more grave than it was. Any time you use the word 'cancer,' it brings up all kinds of memories and images. If you look at the judge, he looks good."

At the same time, the doctor said that given the form of persistent, low-grade lymphoma that Judge Arnold has, he could not guarantee to the president that Judge Arnold would be in good health 10 years from now.

Judge Arnold was diagnosed in 1975 with the low-grade lymphoma -- a form of cancer that can be treated but is generally recurrent. In 1980, his spleen was removed at NIH.

Since then, Dr. Tranum said, Judge Arnold has been found to have "minimal amounts of the disease" in his lymph nodes. He visits the National Cancer Institute at NIH three or four times a year for monitoring and consultation.

Last year, Judge Arnold received low-level radiation to a small area in the head and neck region. And three months ago, after doctors detected a "slow increase" in the growth of the disease, they decided to treat him with chemotherapy pills that are taken several days each month.

Dr. Tranum said that if the disease goes into remission, doctors will stop treatment and resume it only if the lymphoma becomes active again, as it often does.

"I told the president I felt confident this guy would be fully functional for five years, and, unless there's a major change, I would expect him to be fully functional for much longer. I didn't think it was fair to guarantee 10 years, but I think it's possible."

For his part, Judge Arnold told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Friday night: "I feel good, and I'm getting along very well. I have never lost a day of work because of my condition since I had surgery 14 years ago."

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