FRANKFORT — Former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Wendell Ford is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer in his hometown of Owensboro. He will turn 90 Sept. 8.
Ford said in a news release that his plans to campaign for Democratic candidates across the state are on indefinite hold.
He said he recently was diagnosed with a malignancy on one of his lungs and that the cancer has since started to spread.
"I have been blessed with good health for most of my life," said Ford, who has been a heavy smoker. "While these recent developments are unexpected, I have a very positive outlook and complete faith in my doctors.
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"I am going to listen to them, do exactly as they say and leave the rest with the good Lord."
Gov. Steve Beshear, in a statement, said he spoke with Ford last week about his plans to undergo treatment.
"The senator and Mrs. Ford are like family to Jane and me, and we are confident that the treatment will be a success," Beshear said. "Sen. Ford is an amazing individual who has done so much for Kentucky. The thoughts and prayers of the entire commonwealth are with him and his family during this time."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who broke Ford's record as the longest-serving senator in Kentucky's history in 2009, said in a statement that he and his wife, Elaine Chao, "send our thoughts and prayers to Senator Ford during this difficult time, and we join all of Kentucky in expressing our support for him and his family."
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat trying to oust McConnell in the Nov. 4 general election, said in a statement that Ford is a "mentor and friend."
"He is a fighter, and from talking with him this week, he knows the commonwealth stands with him in this battle," she said.
Ford said he had hoped to make appearances for a number of state and local candidates on the November ballot, including Grimes. He also was scheduled to speak at the annual Wendell Ford dinner July 24 in Louisville.
"I am obviously disappointed that I won't be able to do everything I had planned, but you have to deal with things as they come along and some are beyond your ability to control," Ford said. "I wanted to put the word out now about my health issues so that people would understand why I am not able to be out and about as I usually am. My wife, Jean, and I appreciate your thoughts and prayers."
Ford, whose political career spanned four decades, retired in 1999 after serving four terms in the U.S. Senate. He was first elected to the Senate in November 1974, and was the Senate Democratic whip from 1991 to his retirement.
Ford was governor of Kentucky from Dec. 7, 1971, to Dec. 28, 1974. He was the first person in Kentucky history to be elected lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. senator.
Former Gov. Julian Carroll, who was Ford's lieutenant governor and is now a state senator from Frankfort, said Ford has been a major force for the Kentucky Democratic Party. The party headquarters in Frankfort bears his name.
"His inability to be out on the campaign trails has driven me to be more visible for Democratic candidates," Carroll said. "We pray that Wendell will be back on his feet again soon and in the public eye."