TRENTON, N.J. — Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who at age 86 became the Senate's oldest member Monday when Robert Byrd of West Virginia died, says he is now free of cancer after undergoing six rounds of chemotherapy.
"Though it's not yet visible, there is definitely hair growing on my scalp," the New Jersey Democrat told The Associated Press by telephone Monday afternoon, adding that his pocket comb was being held "in readiness."
He had made an announcement Saturday at a gay-rights gathering that his doctor told him the day before that the cancer was gone.
He was hospitalized Feb. 15 after falling at his New Jersey home and was treated for a bleeding ulcer. It was announced four days later that B-cell lymphoma was found in his stomach. He began chemotherapy and returned to the Senate on March 2.
Since then, he has gone to work nearly every day.
"I think my staff, subject to a whipping here and there, will say I was clear in whatever I was doing," Lautenberg said.
Because a cure was possible, he said, he greeted the treatments "with enthusiasm, even though at times it robbed me of some energy."
If it did, he didn't let it show. He kept a vigorous schedule beyond attending votes and hearings and even walked the mile-long St. Patrick's Day parade in Hoboken, as he does every year.
Lymphoma is an immune system cancer, and the B-cell form is a type of the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that strikes more than 65,000 people in the U.S. annually. There are multiple subtypes of the B-cell form, with widely varying treatments and prognoses. Lymphomas can strike in lymph tissue anywhere in the body, such as the lymph nodes – and stomach.
The 92-year-old Byrd had been in frail health for several years. On Monday, Lautenberg remembered him as a meticulous lawmaker and parliamentarian.
"He was such a power, and he'll be sorely missed," said Lautenberg, who arrived in Washington in 1982 after making millions as the founder of the payroll services company Automatic Data Processing.
Lautenberg, a liberal, served three terms before retiring from politics in 2000, but he returned two years later as a last-minute replacement in a Senate race when Sen. Robert Torricelli dropped out. He was re-elected in 2008, winning easily in a race in which his age never materialized as a major issue.
Lautenberg is a major supporter of gun control and sponsored a 1996 law banning gun ownership by those convicted of domestic violence. He's also a critic of the tobacco industry; he wrote the law than banned smoking on domestic airline flights.
He's been active in transportation issues – he criticized the Transportation Security Administration over a disruptive security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport in January – and played a key role in passage of a 1984 law that used federal highway funds as leverage to pressure all states to adopt a minimum drinking age of 21.
He said he's keeping his mind open about whether to run for re-election in 2014 at age 90.
"It's too early. I will tell you this," he said, "I'm not saying no."
And he appears to have embraced his new posiition as the oldest senator, with one caveat: "Promise not to tell anyone I'm over 65."