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Alaska Gov. Walker diagnosed with prostate cancer

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: November 5, 2016
  • Published November 4, 2016

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced Friday that he has prostate cancer but expects to fully recover after surgery in December.

"It's an adjustment. There's no question about that," Walker, 65, said at a news conference Friday, surrounded by his wife, Donna, and his children. But, he added: "I think this day and age of where we are in cancer treatments gives me a lot of encouragement."

Gov. Bill Walker talks about his prostate cancer diagnosis at a press conference Friday. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Walker's communications director, Grace Jang, said the governor was diagnosed after a blood test that followed a routine physical exam. There's no sign Walker's cancer has spread anywhere else, she added.

Walker said he's feeling "fine" and expects to be sidelined for "a few days" after his surgery Outside. He declined to say where the surgery will take place, but Alaskans often go for advanced medical treatment to Seattle, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, or New York.

Based on advice from Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, Walker said he won't have to formally transfer power to Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott during his treatment; Mallott will have "all the authority he needs" to lead state government if anything comes up, Walker said.

Walker told Cabinet members and senior staff about his diagnosis at a midday meeting.

"We expect he won't miss a beat," said Gerad Godfrey, Walker's rural affairs advisor, on his way out of the meeting.

Alaska lawmakers sent a tide of well-wishes Walker's way.

"It's not easy for an individual or a family to accept a diagnosis such as this," House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said in a prepared statement. "The thoughts and prayers of my family, my colleagues and Alaskans all over the state are with the governor and his family right now. We wish him the best during this treatment and hope for a speedy recovery."

Walker said he didn't expect his diagnosis to interfere with his job as he finishes his second year in office.

He's expected to push budget reforms in the next legislative session after his bills were largely rejected by lawmakers this year; he's also been pressing his plans for a state-led natural gas pipeline megaproject.

Jang said the governor's cancer won't affect his plans for a trip to a natural gas conference in Japan later this month.

Donna Walker said her husband was showing "not even a single symptom."

"The man's normal workday is about 11 to 12 hours — even when he comes home from the office there's usually another hour or two," she told reporters. "This is why we are encouraging everyone to follow through with the regular checkups."

There's ongoing debate about the value of prostate cancer screening using the prostate-specific antigen blood test — one of the two most common methods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against PSA screening for men without symptoms, based on the risk of false positive tests and complications that could result from them.

Urologists take a more nuanced approach, according to Dr. Benjamin Montgomery, of the local Alaska Urology practice.

"We believe there is some valid reason to screen patients, and more study needs to be done to refine what those PSA numbers are telling us — and at what point we ought to be proceeding with further evaluation," Montgomery said in a phone interview.

The American Urology Association recommends against routine screening for men under 55 years old. But for men ages 55 to 69 — the category Walker fails into — it recommends "shared decision-making" with doctors and going ahead with testing "based on a man's values and preferences."

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