PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish says he doesn’t want his cancer diagnosis to stop him from serving on the city council, even though he plans to start aggressive treatment in the next few days.
Fish was diagnosed with abdominal cancer on Tuesday after his wife encouraged him to visit the doctor because he was losing weight, had no appetite and starting having stomach pains. Fish told his staff and the public about his diagnosis on Thursday morning.
“I pride myself on staying healthy, eating right. It feels like somebody just sort of snuck in the back door and tried to upend everything,” Fish said.
Fish said he’s struggled the last few days with a fear of the unknown and breaking the news to his family. Fish sat down with his 13-year-old son on Wednesday after he had been away for a few weeks at camp.
“It was very difficult to share this news. We knew it would be very upsetting and there was not a lot we could share with him other than to have confidence in our doctors and in the path ahead that we’re going to take as a family,” Fish said.
Fish said he has lost 30 pounds in recent months and people had started to notice changes. He knew with so many visits coming up OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute that news would get out eventually.
“One of the things I’ve learned about cancer is that people often struggle with these diseases on their own in isolation,” Fish said. “The best way to fight these diseases is to bring your family and friends together as part of your support group.”
He said he’s been flooded with well wishes, including notes from political opponents, fellow city employees and the public at large.
“You and I have witnessed in the last six months a lot of discouraging things in our community. Divisions and people feeling off balance and many things that aren’t so inspiring. So, for me to get this kind of outpouring of love and support has been very reaffirming of kind of the spirit of Portland,” Fish said. “Frankly I’m going to need this support.”
Fish will start an aggressive treatment plan on Monday that involves intravenous and oral chemotherapy. His doctors have explained they might not know for several months if the treatment will be effective.
Fish’s form of abdominal cancer can be quite aggressive but he is optimistic about the coming fight.
“I’m not a statistic,” he said. “My hope is if we get in front of this now and do all the hard work that we’ll be able to manage this disease.”
Fish said he hopes people hear his story and learn to pay attention to their own symptoms. He tried to explain away his individual symptoms – weight loss, lack of appetite, stomach pain – but eventually they became too much to ignore.
“It took a cascade of all these things hitting me at once where finally my wife said ‘enough is enough’ and she forced the subject,” Fish said.
Fish plans to continue working as much as possible but said there will be times he must cut back, especially to make more time for his family.
“I want to extend my life as long as I can,” he said.
Fish has announced he’s planning to seek re-election next year. On Thursday he said he’d still like to run but he’ll have to evaluate his campaign as his treatment progresses.
“The two most important things are my public service and my family. And probably not in that order,” he said. “They’re what gives me great joy and purpose in my life. I want to continue my public service do it for as long as I can and I want to be present for my kids and my wife. We’ll make some adjustments but I think the most important thing is getting back to normal.”
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