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Aides to Joel A. Giambra say the county executive-elect is "cancer-free," is expected to be released from the hospital soon, and even serenaded his staff with a telephone Christmas carol Wednesday.

But they refuse to make his physicians at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan available to discuss his condition and are unable to provide results of critical lymph node tests to determine whether his cancer has spread.

"I have no information about the lymph node tests," incoming Chief of Staff Bruce L. Fisher said Wednesday. "But he's been told the cancer is out of his body. The door to (the possibility of spreading cancer) is unqualifiedly closed because of the previous tests and what they showed."

He added he does not expect the results of the lymph node tests to be made available, and that Giambra prefers to conduct no interviews for now.

Fisher said Giambra and his family have indicated they prefer that his Sloan-Kettering surgeon -- Dr. Jatin P. Shah -- not discuss the cancer in his throat, which was revealed on Nov. 23. Those duties have fallen largely to a Buffalo plastic surgeon -- Dr. Russell Bessette -- who is closely associated with local Republican leaders.

Bessette and Fisher had indicated previously that more analysis of the lymph node area was needed to determine whether any cancer had spread, while revealing that results from the tonsil area proved negative.

But Fisher insisted that doctors remain encouraged about the results of a 10-hour operation on Dec. 13, noting that the surgery was less extensive than originally envisioned.

Doctors removed malignancies in Giambra's right tonsil and in an upper-neck lymph node.

The surgery also involved analysis of surrounding tissues to make sure Giambra's cancer had not spread, as well as reconstruction of the soft palate and other throat areas excised by doctors.

Giambra's staff has stated the county executive-elect's desire to recuperate quietly over the past several days, and issued their first update in more than a week Wednesday.

Fisher said Giambra is making "strong and steady" progress, is resting comfortably, conversing with his wife, Michelle, and catching up on some reading.

They also said he is reviewing memo
randa from his staff and transition team, and has been actively involved in decisions regarding appointments to his new administration. Some of those announcements are expected today and Friday.

"He and his family are extremely grateful for the prayers and expressions of goodwill from hundreds of local concerned citizens," Fisher said.

The aide also said Wednesday that Giambra will be "home for the holidays," but said he could not specifically say that he would return to Buffalo by Saturday -- Christmas Day -- though that date had originally been a goal.

Still, Fisher said the current Buffalo comptroller raised the spirits of his City Hall staff Wednesday by addressing them over a speaker phone and singing a few bars of "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

It has not yet been determined when Giambra will attempt another goal on his road to recovery -- taking the oath of office as the sixth Erie County executive.

That will occur on either Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, he said, but it is expected Giambra's progress will continue to be steady enough to go ahead with the ceremony.

Fisher said he expects that, under the circumstances, the swearing-in will be "low key," though many have expressed a desire to participate.

"We're getting many distinguished citizens and jurists who have expressed a keen interest in helping (with the ceremony)," Fisher said. "That's a nice quandary to be in."

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