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Rep. Lee Zeldin confirms he was diagnosed, treated for leukemia

Rep. Lee Zeldin outside the H. Lee Dennison

Rep. Lee Zeldin outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge in June.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Zeldin on Saturday said he was diagnosed with early stage leukemia in November and immediately started treatment before he began running for the Republican nomination for governor earlier this year.

Zeldin, 41, a third-term Republican congressman from Shirley, told Newsday he had been diagnosed and treated for the cancer, which he described as an early stage chronic myeloid leukemia, and said it would not affect his campaign.

"Last November, I was diagnosed with early stage CML and immediately started treatment which I responded well to without side effects," Zeldin said in a statement.

"Over the last 9 months, I have achieved complete remission, am expected to live a normal life, and my doctor says I currently have no evidence of this disease in my system," Zeldin said.

His doctor, Dr. Jeffrey Vacirca, of New York Cancer & Blood Specialists, which has several practices on Long Island and in New York City, confirmed in a statement the absence of the disease.

Vacirca called Zeldin "incredibly healthy."

Zeldin revealed the diagnosis publicly when he spoke to an Ontario County Republican Party dinner Friday night, to encourage someone in the audience who was undergoing treatments, according to retired Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who was at the event.

"I was surprised," Kolb, a Canandaigua Republican whose district Included Ontario County, told Newsday on Saturday. "He brought it up toward the end of his speech."

Kolb said Zeldin was praising Ontario County chairwoman Trisha Turner for her inspirational strength in fighting her own health problems when he announced he had cancer.

"You wouldn’t know he had cancer if he didn’t say it," Kolb said.

Assembly Republican leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski), who also attended the dinner, said the announcement surprised him.

"I didn’t know he was sick," Barclay told Newsday. "When he said he was diagnosed with cancer, it was a surprise. But it seems like he’s doing well."

Zeldin first confirmed his diagnosis to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who cited Zeldin’s revelation at the GOP dinner in a series of two tweets.

Suffolk County GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia told Newsday Saturday that he knew about Zeldin’s diagnosis.

Garcia said the illness never slowed Zeldin down, and didn’t appear to be a problem for his campaign for governor.

"He was diagnosed. He was treated. He is fully healthy, and that all occurred before he announced he was running for governor," Garcia said.

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects blood cells and bone marrow. There is no cure, but people can experience remission, a state after diagnosis and treatment in which the cancer is no longer detected in the body.

Patients with the type of leukemia Zeldin has usually have fairly mild symptoms, if any, and usually respond to standard treatments, according to the American Cancer Society.

The five-year survival rate for adults is 70%, compared with 22% in the 1970s.

Vacirca, Zeldin’s physician, said Zeldin has responded well to treatment.

"In November 2020, following a diagnosis of early chronic myeloid leukemia, Congressman Zeldin began targeted therapy, to which he immediately responded extraordinarily well and has achieved complete remission," Vacirca said in his statement, which accompanied Zeldin's.

"Successfully treated, early chronic myeloid leukemia is now a chronic disease, which carries a normal life expectancy," Vacirca said.

In his statement, Zeldin said he had not slowed down and did not miss his Army Reserve duty as a result of the diagnosis.

He said he was all-in on his campaign.

"Right now, I’m once again crisscrossing New York State in our campaign for Governor, hitting Monroe, Wayne, and Ontario Counties yesterday, and Jefferson, Lewis, and Hamilton Counties today," Zeldin said.

Kolb, who said he has known Zeldin for years, said, "if it was going to be an issue for him, he wouldn’t be running for governor."

Barclay said he was confident Zeldin could continue his gubernatorial candidacy.

"I think he gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard him give on the campaign trail," Barclay said of the Friday dinner. "You would never have known. He was high-energy.

"I think I am even more confident in him and his campaign after last night," Barclay said Saturday. "There was a lot of energy in the room."

Peter King, the former Republican congressman from Seaford, said these days, a cancer diagnosis shouldn’t hurt a campaign.

But King called it important for a candidate to be transparent and tell the public about the specifics of the cancer.

"The fact is that Lee said he was diagnosed last November and that’s he’s been pretty active across the state," King, who retired in 2020, said in an interview. "A lot has changed over the years."

Jay Jacobs, chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, said Saturday, "My thoughts are with him and I'm hoping that he has a good outcome."

As to Zeldin's run for governor, Jacobs, also the Nassau County Democratic chairman, said, "He has to use his best judgment, and he will. And I'm sure that if he feels up to it, he'll run."

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