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Update: Former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett has pancreatic cancer

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett confirmed Wednesday that he has pancreatic cancer.

"There have been a number of inquiries about my health from friends and former associates expressing a solicitude for me that is very heartwarming," he wrote in an email. "At this stage, there is no firm prognosis."

Bennett, a Republican who served three terms in the Senate, said he will start treatment at Johns Hopkins University on Friday.

"The doctors are hopeful that a combination of chemotherapy and radiation can shrink the tumor to a point where it will become operable," he said. "All of us in the family express our deep gratitude for all of the expressions of comfort that we have received."

Bennett, 81, said when he asked his doctor for a guess as to how long he would live, "He just smiled and said, 'That's between you and God.'"

He said his doctor found a tumor on his pancreas after treating him for shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash. He also had no appetite, lost weight and had no energy.

Bennett said he started feeling better with medication but had pain in an area other than where the shingles were. His doctor adjusted his pain medication but that didn't help, either, he said.

"As result of checking a little more, they found out that I have tumor on my pancreas. So one circumstance led to the discovery of the other because the symptoms are the same," he said.

"At the moment, it has spread to no other organs of the body."

Bennett said he's talked to pancreatic cancer patients who have survived. "That's encouraging, and the fact that the doctors are willing to try with the chemotherapy and radiation is also encouraging," he said.

Bennett served as Utah's junior senator alongside seven-term Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch for 18 years.

"Elaine and I have been praying for Bob, his wife, Joyce, and their family as they take up this challenge with love and dedication," Hatch said. "Bob is a very good friend, and I was deeply saddened to learn the news about his health. I have always admired that he is a fighter and I will do everything I can to support him in this fight."

In 2010, Utah Republican Party delegates ousted Bennett, a moderate Republican, in favor of tea party candidate Mike Lee, who is serving his first term in the Senate.

Bennett said he was "really mad" when he didn't win — for about two weeks. He said he didn't like where the Senate was heading at the time and doesn't like it now.

"It's become a society where people stand and scream at each other, and that's not my style," he said.

Looking back at the 2010 state GOP convention, Bennett said, the delegates "hated me, and in taking that hate out on me they did me a huge favor by releasing me to another career that I've enjoyed enormously."

After leaving office, Bennett became chairman of the Bennett Group where he does political consulting in Washington, D.C., and business consulting in Salt Lake City. He serves as co-chairman of the Utah Debate Commission and writes a column for the Deseret News.

"I've just had a lot of fun doing the kinds of things I've enjoyed, and I don't have to ask Harry Reid for permission to leave town to do them," he said.

Bennett is also a resident scholar at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Kirk Jowers, head of the Hinckley Institute, said Bennett's seminar on domestic policy issues is one of the institute's most popular courses. Bennett joined the institute after leaving the Senate in 2011 and has taught the course every semester since.

"He called me last week to tell me the difficult news, but his only concern seemed to be the students who are in his seminar," Jowers said. He said arrangements are being made to allow Bennett to continue teaching the course remotely through the end of the semester.

Gov. Gary Herbert said he, too, was saddened to learn about Bennett's cancer.

"Nearly all of us know someone who has battled cancer and we understand the challenge it presents for an individual and his loved ones," he said in a statement. The Bob Bennett I know is a fighter and I have every reason to believe he will beat it.”

Contributing: Jed Boal, Lisa Riley Roche


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