LOUISVILLE - Former longtime U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford revealed Friday that he is undergoing treatment for cancer, putting on hold his plans to hit the campaign trail again this fall on behalf of Democratic candidates in Kentucky.
Ford, an iconic Democrat who also served as governor, said he was diagnosed recently with a malignancy on one of his lungs. The cancer has since started to spread, according to a release issued through Mike Ruehling, one of his former press secretaries.
The former four-term senator will turn 90 in September.
"I have been blessed with good health for most of my life," Ford said. "While these recent developments are unexpected, I have a very positive outlook and complete faith in my doctors. I am going to listen to them, do exactly as they say and leave the rest with the good Lord."
Ford said he will undergo a series of chemotherapy treatments in his hometown of Owensboro.
First elected to the Senate in 1974, Ford rose through the ranks to become a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team as party whip.
He left the Senate after deciding against seeking a fifth term in 1998, when Republican Jim Bunning was elected to the Senate. Ford is the last Democratic senator from Kentucky, which has shifted increasingly toward the GOP in federal races.
Ford has remained an active elder statesman for Kentucky Democrats, campaigning for them and offering advice.
Last month, Ford endorsed state Attorney General Jack Conway's bid to win the gubernatorial nomination next year.
Ford said he had hoped to make appearances for a number of Democratic candidates this fall, including Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Ford said those plans are on hold indefinitely.
"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."
A Democratic dinner named in Ford's honor is planned next Thursday in Louisville.
Grimes, who is Kentucky's secretary of state, called Ford 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.
McConnell, a Republican, said his thoughts and prayers are with his former colleague "during this difficult time." McConnell said he joined "all of Kentucky" in expressing his support to Ford and his family.
Ford earned a reputation as a staunch defender of the state's tobacco and coal interests as a senator. For years, Ford was an unapologetic smoker. He gave it up about a decade ago when he went into the hospital after breaking his hip, Ruehling said.
The state Democratic Party on Friday called Ford a "quintessential Kentuckian."
"We know he will tackle his illness with the same tenacity he brought to his lifetime of work in public service," it said. "Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with Sen. Ford and his family at this time."