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Michael Bennet has prostate cancer but is still planning presidential run

Sen. Michael Bennet has prostate cancer. And he's planning to run for president.

The second statement may not be too surprising -- the Colorado Democrat has indicated he's been considering joining what could turn out to be the largest Democratic field ever (1976 holds the record, with 16 candidates). 

Bennet told The Colorado Independent's Mike Littwin that after he had "become comfortable with his decision to run," he went to his doctor for a physical. His prostate-specific antigen (PSA) count was high, and a biopsy revealed a malignancy. But Bennet is optimistic. The cancer was caught early, and it's treatable.

"'I'm 54,'" Bennet told Littwin. "'That's relatively young. It seemed to make sense to have the prostate removed … I'd be recuperating for 7-10 days and would need some rest after that. The hope is then I'll be cancer-free and able to move on. If I'm not cancer free, then I'd have to make another decision.'"

Bennet's office confirmed the cancer diagnosis and his treatment plans in a statement Wednesday evening. 

"Late last month, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. While hearing news like this is never easy, I am fortunate it was detected early, and as a result, my prognosis is good," his statement reads. "During the upcoming Senate recess, I will have surgery in Colorado and return to work following a brief recovery."

He plans to undergo the surgery on April 11, according to the Independent, and Bennet was also told the risk is low. Former Secretary of State John Kerry had the same surgery in 2003 and recovered quickly, going on to win the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

"The idea was to announce sometime in April," Bennet said in his call with Littwin. "That was the plan. We hired some staff. We interviewed people for positions in New Hampshire and Iowa. And then I went for the physical. In my last physical, my PSA was high. They did a biopsy, and it was clear. But this time, it was not clear.

"That was 2-3 weeks ago. I was in San Francisco. Then the question became: Is this still something I wanted to do? I could answer the question in two ways. Maybe this would be a good time to give it up and go do something else. And the other was whether I could continue to run. I found myself hoping that I could run. That's what the doctors have said. That's what John Kerry and others learned." 

While a cancer diagnosis is never welcome, Bennet sees himself as fortunate. "It is highly treatable. I have insurance through Kaiser Permanente," he told the Independent. "I feel lucky that the doctors found it. I feel lucky that I'll probably be OK."

But the episode has served as a reminder for him how important it is for lawmakers to ensure that all Americans have good health insurance.

"The reason I wanted to share this is that I didn't want anyone to make it other than what it is — a brief healthcare speed bump. Having said that, it is a reminder of how important it is for people to have health insurance and to have primary care checkups. 

"I don't want to be hysterical, but if it was left in me undetected, it could kill me. It won't because I have insurance and decent medical care. The idea that the richest county in the world hasn't figured out how to have universal health care is beyond embarrassing. It's devastating."

So, if after his surgery he's cancer-free, Bennet plans to join the giant field of Democrats. He feels that he has something different to say from those who've announced -- he says that no one else running is addressing the reasons that Congress is getting little done and the corruption in the system is putting the democracy at risk. "I wouldn't do it if I didn't think I had a chance to win," he told Littwin. "I think, like everyone else does, it's a long shot. But I think everyone in the field is a longshot."

Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.