GREENFIELD — Mayor Dick Pasco boasts that every day, he is a record-breaker for surviving liver cancer.
He was told 13 years ago that he had only eight months to live. But when a surgeon at an Ohio cancer hospital told him he could live another 10 years by undergoing surgery followed by experimental chemotherapy, Pasco said the decision was simple.
The surgery cleared him of cancer. But now, years later, the experimental treatments have led to complications that so far have been difficult to overcome.
The mayor, 65, has always been known for his dry sense of humor. These days, however, the quips are less frequent as he struggles with a debilitating infection that multiple rounds of antibiotics haven’t been able to knock out.
He knows he looks ill. He knows he’s lost a lot of weight. He even heard that a member of the city council has been talking about a contingency plan in case of his death. Without naming names, he scolded the loose talk Wednesday at the council meeting.
But as the mayor looks to every little sign of recovery with hope, he is also bracing for what could be harder days ahead.
It’s been three months since Pasco had surgery that removed 35 percent of his liver. It was meant to heal him of an abscess that for a year had not gone away with antibiotics and treatments.
Pasco thought he would bounce back right away and even planned to get back to work the following week. He did not.
It took three weeks to get back to the office. Even after he returned to city hall, he would occasionally be forced to leave in the afternoon due to fatigue.
And then another abscess formed. This one was so painful – it developed right on his diaphragm – that he couldn’t take a deep breath.
“My biggest problem now is, I’m so weak and I’ve lost a lot of weight,” said Pasco, who dropped 40 pounds over the summer.
A drain placed into his body and antibiotics are supposed to heal the abscess now, but so far, it doesn’t seem to be working.
“My surgeon is positive. He’ll say ‘It’s a setback, not a big issue,’” Pasco says.
Still, he’s not so sure. While he’s used to bouncing back to health, now Pasco is confronting what could be an uncertain future.
Just last week, he had a difficult talk with his wife, Joanie.
“I said, ‘Honestly, this could be the beginning of the end. I don’t think it is, but we’ve got to be grateful for the time we’ve had. If it’s time, it’s time,’” Pasco said.
Pasco has even considered stepping down from the mayor’s job he long dreamed of holding. The darkest time, he said, was dealing with the death of his faithful bulldog, Butch. The dog died earlier this year.
Pasco said doctors have talked to him about a liver transplant, but he doesn’t want one. He says at his age, he wouldn’t want to get on a waiting list in front of someone younger than him.
He also doesn’t want to go back to the cancer hospital for a second opinion.
“I don’t have cancer,” he said. “That is a cancer hospital. I have no right to waste the doctor’s time talking to me when they should be helping someone with cancer.”
Joanie Pasco says it’s hard to talk about her husband’s health, especially when their surgeon says he’s just facing setbacks.
“We went through this when Dick had his cancer,” she said. “It wasn’t as public because he still went to the office. But Dick’s lost quite a bit of weight this time. He looks more ill than I hope he is. So it’s a little more obvious, but I remember thinking when he had the cancer how bad he looked. I know we can get past this.”
She says she’s surprised at how long it’s taking for him to recover from the June surgery. He’s been switching among about five different antibiotics, hoping that one or more of them will finally conquer the lingering infection.
“I know a lot of people are praying for Dick, too,” she said. “They tell us that all the time, so that really helps. I don’t want to think any other way, because he’s a pretty strong guy. Till the doctors tell him different, of course, we have a lot of hope.”
This week, the mayor has felt better. While he used to have a bad day every other day, now he says it’s every third or fourth day. But the antibiotics have killed his appetite, and it’s been hard to gain the weight back.
The Pascos’ new bulldog, Twoie, has given them both a reason to smile.
“He has been really good for both of us,” Joanie said. “He makes us laugh.”
Pasco brought up his health at Wednesday’s city council meeting. He said he had heard that a city council member was talking about a succession plan in case Pasco died. He did not call out the council member by name, but he made it clear he was not happy to hear of the remarks secondhand.
“I’ve bent over backwards to make sure they’re in the loop on everything,” Pasco said. “That’s what bothered me, is they wouldn’t give me the courtesy to come talk to me face-to-face.”
Still, the issue is on people’s minds.
“People in the community are asking questions,” said Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese. “I think there are people that are wondering what the status is, those types of questions.”
Still, Breese said the mayor has been very hands-on in recent weeks.
“I’m not a doctor, but it appears the mayor is getting stronger each day and his stamina is getting better each day,” Breese said.
Council President Mitch Pendlum said he hasn’t said anything about a plan should the mayor leave office.
“The only plan I’ve got is, I hope he gets better and gets OK and goes back to work,” Pendlum said. “There’s always people coming up and saying, ‘What’s going to happen if the mayor can’t come back?’ Everywhere I go for coffee and I run into people I know they say, ‘How’s the mayor? Is he OK?’”
A caucus of Republican precinct leaders would vote to choose a new mayor if a vacancy occurs.
Pasco said while he’ll still occasionally leave his office in the afternoons because he needs to rest, he always is back in the office at 8 a.m. or earlier the next morning.
A former funeral director, Pasco says he has a lot to be grateful for.
“There are a lot of people that didn’t get the opportunity I did,” Pasco said.
The best opportunity he’s had in the last decade, he says, is watching his grandsons Jacob and Zach grow.
“I’ve always been very positive my entire life,” he said. “I honestly feel I’m blessed to still be here. Whatever happens, happens.”