- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2001

CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) — A year ago, Emily Couric was Virginia's all-but-official lieutenant governor candidate for the Democratic Party.

Her high-profile campaign generated support across the state and promised to invigorate the party's ticket. She seemed unstoppable.

Then, on July 20, 2000, Mrs. Couric disclosed she would drop out due to pancreatic cancer, which has a low survival rate.

Mrs. Couric fought back.

Five months after her diagnosis, she felt well enough to re-enter statewide politics as co-chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia at a time when the party is trying to recapture the governor's mansion and stem Republican gains in the legislature.

She spent a busy several months in Richmond, where the General Assembly session spanned the winter and jumped into spring and summer with special sessions for redistricting. She's already casting an eye toward the next Senate election two years from now.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Mrs. Couric said recently. "I saw my doctor the other day, and he said, 'Well, here you are, a year later, walking around, living your life,' and he's very pleased."

Gone now is the wig she wore during the winter session.

Before the diagnosis, Mrs. Couric often logged 14-hour days, seven days a week, and attended as many events as possible.

"I can't do that, and that's a little hard. I enjoyed working at that clip," said Mrs. Couric, 54. "My physician said that I probably work now at a normal speed."

But even that is still a full schedule, balancing legislative, political, personal and medical demands.

"She's scaled back, but she's still doing a heck of a lot," said Delegate Mitchell Van Yahres, Charlottesville Democrat, a longtime friend and political ally. "She's very inspirational."

The pancreas produces juices to help digest food and hormones to regulate how food is stored.

Physicians say pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose because of the organ's location deep inside the body. It is often not caught until its advanced stages.

"Typically, the life span is measured in months, not years," said Dr. Scott Kern, an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who researches pancreatic cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, the average survival rate is 20 percent after the first year, and 4 percent after five years for all the different stages combined.

"If people say, 'I'm going to go home and not do anything' then yes, they'll die in five months. I'm trying to stay alive," she said.

Her treatment "is a changing protocol," she said, as her doctor talks to other physicians around the country trying "to pick up the latest." Her regimen has included chemotherapy, taking more than a dozen pills a day, gargling with salt water three times a day and drinking green tea twice daily.

"It's exciting, but it's also scary," she said. "We never know what the next step is going to be."

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, a Fairfax Democrat, said, "I tell you this — she's as tough as nails. She's defied all the predictions."

One of Mrs. Couric's proudest accomplishments during her six-year Senate career is making Virginia the first state in the nation to require insurance companies to pay for colon cancer screening, a law that passed last year.

The issue hit close to home: The husband of her sister, Katie — host of NBC's "Today" show — died of colon cancer three years ago.

With the legislative session over, she still finds herself in Richmond routinely in her role as general chairman of the state party. Richmond lawyer Lawrence H. Framme III is state chairman.

With the blessing of her doctor, she volunteered for the job as a way to stay involved.

"She's thriving on this new challenge," said Mary Broz, her longtime aide who's now the communications director for the state party. "She has found a way to contribute that suits her perfectly."

Mrs. Couric, a former journalist and one of the assembly's ranking fund-raisers, serves as the party's chief spokeswoman and money raiser.

Her departure from the race last year scrambled the equation of the election. No Democrat had challenged her for the nomination. Last month, Richmond Mayor Timothy M. Kaine won a heated three-way primary for the nomination.

Mrs. Couric has no regrets.

"I don't believe in looking back," she said. "Someone said to me when I got sick, if you're sick and certain doors close, other doors will open. And the state party has been a wonderful way to make a contribution and be involved."

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