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Jeff Weinstein didn’t mince words when he met Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi earlier this month at a fund-raiser in Kenilworth. They were both campaigning for Linda Stender, a Democratic state legislator who is running for Congress in the Seventh District.
“I went right up to her and said, ‘Madame Speaker, I have a brain tumor.’ It sure got her attention,” said Weinstein.
Weinstein, who was raised in Cranford and is president of the pro-Israel NORPAC chapter in his hometown of Edison, isn’t shy about discussing his life-threatening illness and the ways it has affected his outlook and his political views.
“I was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma Multiform Grade IV brain tumor in July 2007,” he said. “The prognosis is only a two-year survival, and it has been a little over a year.”
Weinstein is very familiar with the condition; he is a physician, educated at Johns Hopkins University and its medical school.
“The irony is, I am a neuro-anesthesiologist. I gave anesthesia to people having craniotomies.
“I knew I was having the worst headache of my life, and that is a key symptom for seeking medical help. It told me something was seriously wrong.”
So he began a rugged course of treatment.
“I have had surgery, radiation, then chemo,” he said. “The published studies show tremendous variability from patient to patient, so nobody knows for sure how long they are going to live. But the average person with my diagnosis lives only one to two years.”
Despite that grim assessment, Weinstein told NJ Jewish News on Sept. 17, he is feeling well.
“So far I am doing OK. My tumor is under control. It’s not growing. My oncologist says the natural history of my disease is that it always comes back. At some point it will become resistant to my chemotherapy and start growing. If my tumor comes back, there are other drugs they can try, but they don’t improve life expectancy.”
At this point he is unable to practice medicine. “I am too sleepy and dizzy to work,” he said. “The radiation to the brain and the chemo cause sleepiness as a side effect. I have trouble driving a car sometimes.”
But Weinstein is not slowing down his political activism, even though it has changed direction more than once.
“I was a Democrat until 9/11. Then I started reading a lot about politics, and I thought the Republicans were more pro-Israel. The extreme Left was very critical of Israel.”
So he changed parties and became active in both the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and NORPAC.
A Democratic ‘revelation’
In 2004, he hosted a NORPAC fund-raiser for Mike Ferguson, the incumbent Republican in New Jersey’s District 7. “I was a hawk on the war in Iraq,” he said. “Then I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“I needed the government’s safety net. Under the Bush administration, funding for cancer research went down 10 percent. I realized that the Democrats keep voting for health care and Bush keeps vetoing it. So, my revelation was that Democrats are more interested in taking care of me. The Republican philosophy is ‘yo-yo economics — you’re on your own.’”
Although he plans to vote for Barack Obama, Weinstein acknowledged he still feels some internal conflict when it comes to presidential politics and the problems of the Middle East.
“I have a little anxiety about Obama wanting to negotiate with Iran, but I think the Democrats are going to be better for me personally because they support cancer research. They used to say that a Republican is a Democrat who got slapped in the face by reality.”
But, he said, “once Republicans get sick, they realize the Democrats are better for health care; it took getting sick to make me switch.”
Unsurprisingly, his key campaign issue is fighting for vast increases in spending to find cures for cancer. He is an active member of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, which works to promote political action on behalf of research.
Weinstein speaks of the future in words that might be more age-appropriate for someone far older than his 51 years.
“I’ve had a good life. I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do. I have already met a sitting president,” he said, referring to George W. Bush, whom he met at a White House Hanukka party in 2007. “My Republican Jewish Coalition friends heard I was sick, and they wanted to do something nice for me. They arranged the invitation.
“I didn’t have the heart to tell them of my conversion to a Democrat,” he joked.
“I have two beautiful, healthy daughters and a wonderful wife and a successful career,” he said. “And it ain’t over yet.”