The Health and Human Services spokesman took a leave of absence last week

By Virginia Chamlee
September 24, 2020 03:00 PM
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Editor's note: The headline of this story incorrectly described the nature of Michael Caputo's cancer and has been edited to correctly identify his diagnosis as head and neck cancer.

Michael Caputo — the top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services who recently took medical leave following controversial social media posts — has been diagnosed with metastatic head and neck cancer, according to a new report by the Buffalo News.

A spokesperson for Caputo, 58, confirmed the news to Politico's Dan Diamond, who tweeted the family's statement in full.

"After surgery last week at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, doctors diagnosed Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Caputo with squamous cell carcinoma, a metastatic head and neck cancer which originated in his throat. He is now home in Western New York, resting in the loving arms of his family, under the watchful eye of Jesus Christ," the statement said.

"The Caputo family wants to thank President Donald Trump and Secretary Alex Azar for their friendship and support," the statement said. "They are also deeply grateful for the counsel of NCI Director Dr. Ned Sharpless and National Institutes of Health Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Jeremy Davis as they decide next steps in Michael's care and recovery. Michael and his family urge all Americans to stop delaying their healthcare, especially cancer screenings, during the COVID 19 crisis — call your family doctor today."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Caputo, who was appointed assistant secretary of public affairs in April, has seen his short tenure marked with a litany of controversies. In April and May, CNN unearthed a series of since-deleted tweets in which Caputo made racist comments about Chinese people and directed sexist comments toward women.

The controversy intensified in September when Politico detailed how Caputo, an ally of disgraced campaign advisor Roger Stone, allegedly worked to interfere with CDC findings on COVID-19.

Just last week, Caputo announced he would be taking a 60-day medical leave, days after posting a bizarre video on social media in which he claimed government scientists were practicing "sedition" and warned of an armed revolt.

"There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president,” Caputo said in a video posted on Facebook Live and obtained by Yahoo! News.

Elsewhere in the video, he can be heard saying his “mental health has definitely failed," and that he doesn't "like being alone in Washington," referencing, “shadows on the ceiling in [his] apartment."

After criticism mounted, Caputo reportedly apologized to fellow HHS staffers and announced in a statement that he would take a temporary leave of absence, "to pursue necessary screenings for a lymphatic issue."