Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was diagnosed with throat cancer this past weekend, casting doubt on his political future in Latin America’s largest economy.
Lula, as the former president is universally known, was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the larynx and will undergo chemotherapy as the first course of action, according to São Paulo’s Sírio Libanês Hospital, the same medical center where current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was treated for cancer before taking office last January.
Lula, 66, is a former union leader who rose from poverty to become Brazil’s first working-class president. He led the country between 2003 and 2010, a period of robust economic growth in which more than 20 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty and joined the middle class.
Speculation has swirled that Lula could run for the presidency again in 2014 if Rousseff, his political protégé, were to decide not to seek re-election.
Lula, who left office with an approval rating of 80%, was also expected to play a key role in next year’s municipal elections, helping stump for candidates from his left-leaning Workers’ Party, known as the PT.
A folksy leader who has suffered occasional health problems over the years, Lula is a smoker with a weakness for cigarillos, or small cigars.
The Sírio Libanês Hospital, a renowned cancer treatment center in Latin America, said in a statement that Lula was “doing well” and released him Saturday night, when he returned to his home in São Bernardo do Campo, his hometown. He expected to start outpatient treatment this Monday.
Lula is particularly known for his gruff voice, whose roughness seemed to mirror his own unpolished edges. A politician with a Midas touch among voters – particularly among the lower-income classes that make up the PT’s base – Lula also helped bolster Brazil’s influence on the world stage in his eight years in office.
Lula is not talking it all. When he needs something, like a glass of water, he communicates it in writing.
The ex-president’s cancer was discovered by chance. Roberto Kalil, his doctor, stopped by his house on Thursday to congratulate him for his 66th birthday.
Lula’s wife, Marisa, complained to Kalil of a lingering headache and the physician reminded her she was overdue for a physical. Lula promised to take her for the medical check-up the next day and while in the hospital told Kalil to give him a better medicine for his throat since the was he was taking was not helping his hoarseness.
The doctor examined his throat, didn’t find anything abnormal, prescribed an antibiotic and made Lula – who seems to think hospital is only for when you are really sick – promise he would be back the next day for his own physical.
Marisa this time made sure this happened taking herself the husband for the check-up. It was Lula who requested the results of the exams that found his cancer were made public.