Son: Kennedy Cancer Has Helped Family Bond

Rep. Patrick Kennedy says there's been an unexpected bright side to his father's grim battle with terminal brain cancer because the family has been able to spend more time with the stricken senator in recent months.

The congressman and son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that he considers it a great gift his father has survived longer than his doctors have expected.

"It's been a chance for us to bond and be together and share a special time together that we would never have had together had he been taken from us," said Kennedy, D-R.I. "That's a big gift. (It) let us have the chance to tell him how much we love him. And him to be there to hear it."

Kennedy said he's spent most days this summer with his father sitting on the porch of their oceanside home in Hyannis Port, Mass., sharing old stories about family, friends and politics.

"In a different sense, it has been a very joyous time because we have had so much more time than any of the doctors had predicted," Kennedy said.

Kennedy spoke shortly after attending a White House ceremony where President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to his 77-year-old father and several others. Kennedy's sister Kara accepted the award on behalf of the senator, who remained in Hyannis Port.

"I was brought to tears," the congressman said.

The White House ceremony was the latest in a slew of awards and honors, including an honorary knighthood in Britain, the longtime Democratic senator from Massachusetts has received since he was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago.

"Irish guys are not known for their sentimentality and my dad's been a pretty hard driver his whole life," said Kennedy. "He's been able to soak it up a little bit and enjoy the victory lap he's had this past year, the great honors he's received.

"For his family it's given us a chance to just spend uninterrupted time with him where we haven't had to share him as much with the rest of the world."

After the award ceremony, Obama unexpectedly ushered Kennedy into the Oval Office for a private meeting.

"He shuts the door and starts asking me about how my father is," Kennedy said. "I told him he's understanding everything that is going on, he's following everything."

The congressman said he told the president his father's greatest frustration is not being in the Senate as Congress seeks to overhaul the nation's health care system. Health care reform has been the cause of his father's life. Chairman of the Senate's health subcommittee since 1971, Kennedy emerged as a leader in winning passage of the National Cancer Act that year.

The senator's family has been touched by cancer over the years - two of his children, Kara, 49, and Edward Jr., 47, are cancer survivors. Edward Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12, and Kara was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago.

Patrick Kennedy, 42, has struggled with alcoholism, depression and drug addiction for much of his life, and in June sought treatment at a drug and alcohol addiction center in Maryland.

Before leaving the White House, Kennedy persuaded Obama to attend a major fundraiser the Kennedy family is planning in New York this fall for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, which will seek to educate the public about the Senate.

The senator's memoir, "True Compass," is also scheduled to come out this fall.

Sen. Kennedy learned he had a malignant tumor called a glioma after suffering a seizure on May 17, 2008, at his home in Hyannis Port. His prognosis was grim because the median survival for the worst form of gliomas is 12 to 15 months. The survival time, however, depends on the type of glioma. The senator has not released the specifics of his diagnosis.

After he was diagnosed, Kennedy gathered top cancer specialists and underwent an aggressive, risky surgery in North Carolina.

The death this week of the senator's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was a blow, but Patrick Kennedy said the family gathered on Cape Cod to remember her and to make sure her life's work on behalf of the mentally disabled is carried on.

"Eunice suffered a lot, and we had a real celebration of her life," Kennedy said. "The priest gave a wonderful sermon on how to bring faith into our lives through works."

Kennedy said it is a lesson his father has learned over his many years of public service.