Anchorage lawmaker Ellis says he's been treated for prostate cancer

Richard Mauer
Richard Mauer

JUNEAU -- Sen. Johnny Ellis, the long-serving Anchorage legislator, said on the Senate floor Wednesday that he has been treated for prostate cancer.

"It's part of the explanation of me moving a little slowly this session but things are getting better, I'm happy to report," Ellis said during the time reserved for senators to speak on any subject.

Ellis said it wasn't his style to discuss personal medical issues but said he wanted to salute the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens for encouraging open discussion of what had once been such a private, and often ignored, condition.

Ellis, 53, who was first elected in 1986, recalled being a much younger man during one of Stevens' annual speeches to the Legislature and expecting him to devote his talk to oil exploration, subsistence and earmarks. Instead, Stevens devoted a large part of his talk to urging men to undergo prostate cancer screening, just as women were getting mammograms to screen for breast cancer.

"Those words came back to me when I had some concerns," Ellis said.

He went for a checkup over the summer and the results were grim.

"I had a diagnosis of prostate cancer. That was pretty devastating, a pretty scary thing -- thank God for health insurance. I'd hate to face this without it."

Ellis said he chose to have his treatment in Anchorage, including surgery. He completed the treatments in the fall.

"For a terrible diagnosis, it was a wonderful experience, and I'm forever grateful," he said. He has since undergone tests and has been told he's "cancer-free."

Ellis praised the Legislature's past efforts to force insurance companies to provide breast- and prostate-cancer screenings as part of basic coverage.

To Alaskans, he said, "Take care of your health, go to those physicals, if you have any concerns, get checked out."

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