OLYMPIA - In the next few weeks, state Sen. Cal Anderson, who recently overcame a struggle with cancer brought on by AIDS, will decide whether to continue serving Seattle's 43rd District or step down to preserve his fragile health.
He returned to work this week, earlier keeping "clued in" to legislative activity from his Seattle home. He returned to the capital yesterday to vote on bills and attend a fund-raising dinner in his honor at the governor's mansion.
Anderson knows the job entails long, stressful hours that sap strength. If the strain proves too much in the coming weeks and months, he will resign.
"This week will give me a chance to see if I can continue doing the job," said Anderson, a liberal Democrat and the state's only professed gay legislator. "I can right now. I just want to see about saving my life for as long as I can."
Anderson said he feels good now. He was released Friday from Providence Medical Center after aggressive chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Although he has energy, the therapy has left him feeling short of breath, constantly drinking water to wet his dry mouth and using a cane. He has short-term memory lapses, causing him to trail off in conversations. He has been bald and haggard since treatment began in March.
"The last month has been a living hell," said Anderson, 46. "I went through some pretty hard times, especially at the beginning."
On the third or fourth day of treatment, Anderson thought he would die.
"But little by little I began popping back," he said. "I have this very strong will to survive."
Anderson said he had known he had AIDS since last September, a month before his district voted him into office with 81 percent of the vote. He has been HIV-positive during his entire political career.
He says his AIDS can be a teaching tool, in the same fashion that the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey used his cancer to educate. He hopes to recruit other legislators to continue his work in seeking passage of a gay-rights bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Anderson's bill has been defeated for three years, and similar measures have failed in previous sessions.
He also has been surprised by the outpouring of cards and letters supporting him.
"I want to make a difference, I want to be a part of the process," Anderson said. "The best way to do that is to continue serving my constituents and making votes."
But while he lay on a hospital bed, Anderson said, Senate Republicans did a "pretty hateful thing" in amending a controversial government-agency reform bill that could have been defeated if he had been present to vote. Without Anderson, the Senate's one-vote Democratic majority is nullified.
As he left Seattle yesterday, Anderson said he was angry about that incident. But during the drive to Olympia and when he was greeted by senators, he "softened," he said.