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Rehnquist isn’t reporting for work today. Did you really think he was? The man is freaking 80 years old and has thyroid cancer. Yes, Bush wants you not to notice this is an important development. VOTE.

Rehnquist, 80, revealed the cancer diagnosis a week ago, prompting speculation about a court vacancy for the first time in more than a decade. The winner of Tuesday’s presidential election is expected to name one or more justices to a court that is deeply divided on issues like abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty.

In the statement, Rehnquist said he was receiving outpatient radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer of the thyroid, a gland in the neck that produces hormones to help regulate the body’s use of energy, is generally treatable but can be more aggressive in older people.

“According to my doctors, my plan to return to the office today was too optimistic,” he said. “While at home, I am working on court matters, including opinions for cases already argued. I am, and will, continue to be in close contact with my colleagues, my law clerks, and members of the Supreme Court staff.

Rehnquist had been hoarse for several weeks before his hospitalization at the National Naval Medical Center in suburban Bethesda, Md. on Oct. 22. He had the tracheotomy a day later.

UPDATE: Here is more evidence and speculation that his condition is more serious: “The combination of radiation and chemotherapy raises the suspicion that Rehnquist’s cancer is not one of the common types that are usually easily treatable, said Dr. Joseph Geradts of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.

The most common types are papillary and follicular cancer, and they are generally responsive to radioactive iodine, Geradts said. Chemotherapy could be needed if it is the more aggressive form, called anaplastic, he said.

He noted that the gland is often removed as part of cancer treatment, but in cases of anaplastic cancer the thyroid sometimes cannot be readily removed.

The presence of a tracheotomy to ease Rehnquist’s breathing also might indicate anaplastic cancer, Geradts said, since that form can squeeze the trachea. “

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding