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Chicago’s Cardinal Bernardin Undergoes Exploratory Cancer Surgery

June 12, 1995

MAYWOOD, Ill. (AP) _ Cardinal Joseph Bernardin underwent exploratory abdominal surgery today to determine if he has cancer of the pancreas, kidney or bile duct.

The operation began about 7:40 a.m. as planned, said Michael Maggio, spokesman for Loyola University Medical Center.

``Odds are very high this is a malignancy or a cancer,″ said Dr. Richard Fisher, director of the hospital’s cancer center.

Fisher said that if doctors found an operable cancer, the operation could last up to seven hours. The procedure would be much shorter if doctors find advanced, inoperable cancer, he said.

Before surgery, the 67-year-old Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago was ``very, very much aware exactly of the possible consequences,″ said the Rev. Michael Place, a friend who visited with the cardinal this morning.

If a possible tumor in the right kidney is malignant, that kidney would be removed, doctors said.

If a tumor near his bile duct and pancreas is malignant, surgeons would remove a part of the stomach, a section of small intestine, the bile duct and a part of the pancreas.

Cancer of the pancreas, which produces insulin, will strike about 24,000 Americans this year. It is one of the most silent and rapidly spreading of cancers.

Bernardin’s surgeon, Dr. Gerard V. Aranha, said even pancreatic cancer caught very early has a five-year survival rate of only 20 percent to 25 percent. He said bile duct cancer has a five-year survival rate of 50 percent.

Before entering the hospital on Sunday, Bernardin spoke with his 90-year-old mother and received a telephone call from the pope.

He told reporters Sunday that he and Pope John Paul II talked about ``the redemptive value of suffering,″ and added that the pontiff planned to say a Mass in his honor today.

The cardinal said he did not tell his mother, who lives in a nursing home, of his health problems.

On Saturday, Bernardin received a telephone call from Steven Cook, the man who accused him in 1993 of sexual molestation but later recanted publicly.

``He said he was saddened by the news and said he stood by me in solidarity and prayed for me,″ Bernardin said of Cook, who has been diagnosed with AIDS.

Asked about how he is facing up to his own mortality, Bernardin said, ``I’m trying to practice what I preach.″

He said that in 43 years in the priesthood he has counseled others to put themselves in the hands of God, adding: ``Sometimes that’s easier said than done.″

Bernardin, the church’s senior-ranking U.S. official, leads 2.3 million Catholics as head of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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