HYANNIS PORT, Mass. | Smiling, waving, and flashing a thumbs-up, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy walked out of Massachusetts General Hospital days earlier than scheduled, greeted well-wishers outside his family compound on Cape Cod, and immediately departed shore for a familiar refuge: the waters of Nantucket Sound.
For two hours, accompanied by his wife, Victoria, and beloved Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Splash, Kennedy sailed his 50-foot sloop Mya in a light breeze.
The senator, wearing a red City Year jacket with “Ted” embroidered on the chest, stood at the helm, guiding the 1927 wood-hulled boat through the chop. He had talked about wanting to sail since being rushed to the hospital Saturday.
“It was wonderful to be on the water,” Kennedy said, shuffling off a dock after his return. “It’s all it takes.”
The very public show of vigor and resolve left little doubt that Kennedy, 76, intends to remain as active as possible while battling the malignant brain tumor with which he was diagnosed Tuesday.
Victoria Reggie Kennedy said her husband was driving her crazy and making her laugh with his insistence on racing this weekend in a Figawi regatta off Cape Cod. And officials at Wesleyan University said Kennedy was still scheduled to deliver the commencement address Sunday.
Friends said they were not surprised that Kennedy was active so soon after leaving the hospital, where he underwent a biopsy of his brain Monday.
They noted that he had faced tremendous adversity before — the assassinations of his brothers John and Robert and a plane crash in 1964 that badly injured his back.
Kennedy is also a fearless competitor in sports, said John P. Driscoll Jr., a friend of more than 50 years who has sailed with Kennedy, played tennis with him, and skied with him.
“He’s a hell of a competitor, and I know it will stand him in good stead,” said Driscoll, who first met Kennedy in the early 1950s, when he was a line coach on the Harvard football team and Kennedy was a hard-hitting end. “He’s a fighter and a warrior.”
Kennedy’s diagnosis of a malignant glioma, a cancerous tumor in the left part of his brain, raises the possibility that he will be unable to complete the final 4-1/2 years of his eighth full term.
Treatment typically consists of radiation and chemotherapy, but among the questions Kennedy is trying to answer this week are precisely what course of treatment to seek, where to seek treatment, and whether to try an experimental treatment.
“He will seek out the best and the brightest people who deal with this problem in oncology, and try to make the right decision,” Driscoll said. “I’m overall confident that he’ll not just make the right decision — he’s gritty enough to go through this. He’s overcome so many personal things in his life.”
U.S. Senator John F. Kerry spoke to Kennedy Wednesday just after Kennedy left the hospital, and said he sounded “upbeat, and positive, and just ready to go.”
“He was obviously thrilled to be out of the hospital and ready to fight,” Kerry said. “He’s in a fighting mood, and he wants to fight for the issues he cares about, and he’s obviously ready to fight for his health.”
Kennedy’s return to the public spotlight occurred after an extraordinary turn of events that started Saturday, when he suffered a seizure just before sitting down to breakfast at his Hyannis Port compound.
He was initially scheduled to remain at Mass. General through the end of the week, but was released early after his doctors said he had “recovered remarkably quickly” from his biopsy.
“He’s feeling well and eager to get started,” Dr. Lee Schwamm, vice chairman of neurology at MGH, and Dr. Larry Ronan, Kennedy’s personal physician, said in a statement.
And so at about 10 a.m. Wednesday, Kennedy walked out of the hospital, a white square bandage on the back of his head.
Amid applause from onlookers and shouts of “We love you!” he kissed his daughter, Kara, and his niece Caroline, and hugged his son, Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island. Then he waved, patted his dogs, and flashed a thumps-up.
“We hope that voice isn’t silenced so soon,” said Sean Butler, 42, who came with three co-workers from the Local 537 pipe fitters union to pay their respects to Kennedy and thank him for his steadfast support of organized labor. “I thought he looked a little thin, but under the circumstances, I thought he looked great.”
Less than an hour after returning to Hyannis Port, Kennedy and his wife took the sloop out for a sail.
A black sport utility vehicle was waiting for the Kennedys and their dogs when they returned to shore. Several neighbors and well-wishers stood on the beach shouting, “We love you, Ted” and “God bless you.”
The senator responded: “We love you, too, and God bless you.”
Kerry said Kennedy told him he wanted to go sailing when the two spoke Saturday, shortly after Kennedy was flown to MGH by helicopter.
“It’s really nice to see him out there doing what he loves, getting out there on the ocean and touching the roots of where he grew up,” Kerry said. ”I’m sure it’s good tonic.”
U.S. Representative Edward J. Markey said he was not surprised to see Kennedy back on the water so soon. “When I think of Ted Kennedy, I think of his concluding words at the DNC ((Democratic National Convention)) in 1980 — when he finished by saying, ‘the cause endures, the dream will never die,’” Markey said. “And I think that’s really who he is: He always sails against the wind, he is always taking on the most difficult challenges that no one else wants to carry as a political burden. And I think that’s the same spirit he is going to bring to his fight against cancer.”
The Senate is in recess next week for the Memorial Day holiday, but Kennedy’s friends and colleagues said there was little doubt that he would return to the chamber as soon as he is able.
“I can’t find anyone who doesn’t believe he’s going to be out on the Senate floor,” Markey said. “Everyone who knows him knows he’s going to fight as hard as he has for every cause that he has stood for over the years. He’s a fighter who answers every bell — that’s how everyone views him — and that’s why I believe he will be back.”