When U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer she had a simple question for her doctor: “Am I going to die anytime soon?”

He told her no.

Hirono’s right kidney was removed along with 5 inches of one of her ribs. She would later decide to undergo immunotherapy to continue to beat back the cancer.

Hawaii Comprehensive Cancer Coalition (HCCC) has announced U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono as the recipient of the 2018 Courage Award for her bravery and willingness to continue serving in Congress while battling Stage IV cancer.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono talked Wednesday about her decision to share the news of her illness with her constituents. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But her next question was not for her doctor. It was for herself: Should she tell her constituents?

“It was a conversation that I had with my husband,” Hirono, 70, told about 50 people gathered at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki for the annual Hawaii Comprehensive Cancer Coalition Summit.

“He was very concerned that people in my state, if they found out that I had stage 4 cancer, that they would all think that I was dying.”

The couple decided to go public in May. Since then Hirono has emerged as a voice of resistance to President Donald Trump and his administration, particularly when it comes to health care and the treatment of immigrants and women.

I do not consider myself courageous or brave. I just got on with it.” — Sen. Mazie Hirono

On Wednesday, Hirono was honored with a “Courage Award” for her decision to stay in office while battling cancer. The senator has also said she plans to run for re-election this year.

“I knew that this could be, potentially, a long journey, and I wanted to be as open as possible about it,” Hirono said.

“I do not consider myself courageous or brave. I just got on with it. And I made the decision with my husband to be very forthcoming about what I have, realizing that there are people in our country and in our state who face this kind of challenge in their lives every day.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa also spoke at the event.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was not there, but prepared a statement that was read on her behalf.

Other attendees included Lt. Gov. Doug Chin — who is running for Hanabusa’s seat in Congress while she seeks to unseat Gov. David Ige — and state Sens. Rosalyn Baker and Josh Green, a physician who is running for lieutenant governor.

Hirono described health care as a right rather than a privilege, noting that without insurance she would likely be bankrupt as a result of her illness.

She added that the Trump administration, along with the general climate in Washington, has provided her a convenient distraction.

“I’m here to tell you that I am plugging away, not fading away,” Hirono said. “My voice remains strong.”

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