Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco gravely ill, fighting for life - letter to La. citizens, family, friends
The Advertiser, Dec. 10, 2017
Former Gov. Blanco gravely ill, fighting for life
Greg Hilburn, USA TODAY Network, Dec. 10, 2017 - article followed by her letter.
Former Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, whose term will ever be linked to Hurricane Katrina, is gravely ill and fighting for her life.
Blanco, Louisiana’s only woman to serve as governor, said in a press release that a rare form of cancer first treated more than six years ago has metastasized to her liver.
“I am in a fight for my own life, one that will be difficult to win,” Blanco, who never lost an election, said in a statement. “I knew from the start of my cancer journey this could happen, but with each passing year I hoped this cup would pass me by. It did not.”
Blanco has written an open letter to the people of Louisiana published today in USA Today Network’s newspapers in her hometown of Lafayette and in Alexandria, Monroe, Opelousas and Shreveport.
The former governor suffers from ocular melanoma, which was first diagnosed in 2011.
During a routine cancer checkup in Memphis in October doctors discovered the melanoma had spread. She is currently undergoing treatment each month in Philadelphia.
“With the help of talented doctors and medical professionals, my eye was treated with radiation, which successfully preserved my vision,” Blanco said. “I now face a new challenge.”
Blanco asked Louisianians to pray for her and all other patients fighting life-threatening diseases.
Gov. John Bel Edwards noted Blanco's "abiding love of Louisiana."
“Donna and I have been blessed to come to know Gov. Blanco and her large, beautiful family over the past several years," he said. "She is a strong woman of incredible faith, a deep and abiding love of Louisiana and all it’s people.
"Now we ask the people of our state to join their prayers to ours that she, aided by the Great Physician as well as her medical team, wins a great victory over cancer and is restored to full health.”
Blanco was first elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1983, then in 1988 to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. She was elected lieutenant governor is 1995 and governor in 2003.
Her single term will forever be linked with Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in Louisiana history, and shortly after Hurricane Rita, which created devastating damage in southwestern Louisiana.
Blanco’s popularity dipped following her response to the storm. She chose not to seek re-election and instead focus on the state's recovery from Katrina and Rita.
“She retired undefeated in Louisiana politics, a rare feat,” said Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist. “Kathleen Blanco was underestimated during her career.
“But her opponents and those who doubted her abilities should have known better. She achieved all she strived for in her lengthy and storied career.”
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1
Want to send a note to Kathleen Blanco?
* * * * * * * Letter
Dear Citizens of Louisiana, my dearest Family and Friends,
It is with a heart filled with gratitude that I write today to thank you for the abiding love and prayers you have generously bestowed upon me and my family throughout my entire life and especially during my 24 years of public service.
Without your prayers in 1997, when our son Ben lost his life, we could not have persevered. Thank you for sharing your own joys and sorrows, which brought clarity that we are never alone when our Creator asks us to carry special burdens.
I come to you once more to ask for your prayers and loving support.
In 2011, I was diagnosed with an ocular melanoma, a dangerous and rare cancer of the eye. With the help of talented doctors and medical professionals, my eye was treated with radiation, which successfully preserved my vision. The past six and a half years of my life have been busy, filled with blessings and love.
I now face a new challenge. I am in a fight for my own life, one that will be difficult to win, battling the melanoma that has invaded my liver. I knew from the start of my cancer journey this could happen, but with each passing year I hoped this cup would pass me by. It did not.
I have begun a treatment program that hopefully, over time, will quell these cancer demons. No treatments have yet been identified to actually cure this type of melanoma, so a variety of treatments will likely be necessary over time. I would deeply appreciate, if you should see fit, that you offer prayers on behalf of myself, as well as all others fighting to survive life-threatening illnesses.
When you elected me to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1984, I began to see Louisiana as a complex and fascinating kaleidoscope of special people with varied talents and needs. I learned about you, your goals and aspirations, and especially your needs. I began to understand more fully how a well-formed government should be designed to invest in individuals, in education, in basic health care and in other ways that make each of us strong, independent and able to be active contributors to this complex world.
Those early lessons led me from the Legislature, to the Public Service Commission, the lieutenant governor’s office and, finally, to the governor’s office. All that was possible because you believed in me and guided me on that 24-year journey. I believed in you. I believed we could all be better than we were.
I always felt blessed by God. My life was rich with a mega-sized family, good parents, caring brothers and sisters, a fascinating husband, creative children whose spouses gave me 13 of the best grandchildren, and many talented friends and interesting acquaintances.
In my heart, I always understood God was preparing me for unknown challenges. And of course those challenges came. The first great loss was the death of our son. Many years later, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita challenged all of us.
I was inspired by the hard work and dedication of the tens of thousands of people who stepped forward to walk hand in hand with those whose lives were endangered and abruptly interrupted.
I thank you, Louisiana citizens and first responders who carried those in need, including the young, old, ailing and dying, from danger to safety.
I thank you, survivors, who lost so much, for your dedication and hard work in rebuilding our world, hopefully in smarter, stronger and safer ways.
I thank my staff and all of the government workers across the state for the rough hours they spent piecing our world back together. The work was hard and unrelenting and did not stop when the cameras went away. People from every corner of Louisiana pulled together to help each other in those dark days. From across the nation and world, people reached out to us, and I thank them.
I knew from the beginning that the journey would be difficult but that with God’s grace we could survive. We did survive.
And dare I claim we are thriving in many new ways impossible to have foreseen before those calamities? Louisianans have faced a number of new challenges since the 2005 hurricanes and more will come, but we are a strong people and can face them all. I thank all of you for your courage and hard work while I was your governor.
It has been an honor and blessing to have been chosen, like Esther, to lead our people at such a time as this. Again, please add me to your prayer list. I hope I can survive and thrive as you have done.
I pray for blessings and peace for you and your families as we enter this holiday season that leads us to the blessings of Christmas and a hopeful new year.
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco was Louisiana governor from 2004 to 2008.
Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.