Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs will step back from his duties while he undergoes cancer treatment.
Beggs announced at Monday’s City Council meeting that it would be his last at the helm while he receives radiation and chemotherapy for stage 1 throat cancer.
“All signs point to a good recovery,” Beggs told The Spokesman-Review.
Councilwoman Candace Mumm, the longest serving council member, will chair City Council meetings in Beggs’ place, although he still hopes to participate virtually and cast votes.
“I’m going to continue to attend meetings as I’m able, and I’ll continue to do my job via email, text and phone calls,” said Beggs, who described his absence as “intermittent medical leave.”
“Because of the effects of the treatment, I just can’t always predict what my energy level is going to be at any one time.”
Beggs expects to return in early October after a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation treatment at Deaconess Hospital and a post-treatment recovery period.
An otherwise healthy and active 58-year-old, Beggs developed a serious sore throat earlier this year. He gradually began to feel fatigued but thought little of it at first. As a long distance runner, Beggs is accustomed to fighting through exhaustion. But starting around March, Beggs looks back now and realizes that he “was having to really push myself to be on things.”
In April he saw a specialist who conducted a biopsy. In May doctors determined that there was a tumor in his tonsil.
The tumor was surgically removed in June and Beggs fared well, but he was forced to miss two consecutive City Council meetings.
It wasn’t until after the surgery that doctors were actually able to definitively determine the type of cancer, adenocarcinoma, which forms in the body’s glandular cells.
While doctors remain optimistic, Beggs said they haven’t been able to give him a detailed prognosis – such as a percentage chance of a full recovery – because “ they just can’t, and part of it is the tumor in the tonsil is not something they have many data points on.”
A PET scan has shown the cancer has not spread. Once-a-week chemotherapy coupled with five-days-a-week radiation is expected to ensure that any remaining cancer cells are extinguished.
“I’m feeling good about the long term,” Beggs said.
The short term, however, is challenging. Beggs has had one round of treatment thus far.
“It’s very fatiguing and uncomfortable,” Beggs said. “It’s going to get worse.”
Still, it’s a relief just to begin.
“Once I got a diagnosis for what I’ve been going through, and once I understood the magnitude of it – that took a while to sink in – I just wanted to get the treatment,” Beggs said.
Accepting a reduced role in City Hall will be a challenge for Beggs, who is known among his colleagues for having an indelible work ethic. He’s served on the City Council since his appointment to a vacant seat in District 2 in 2016. He was elected to the same seat in 2017, then won the citywide race for Spokane City Council President in 2019.
Beggs, an attorney, served as director of the Center for Justice from 2004 to 2010.
“If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s going to be that Breean gets to step back and let some of us do things at a different pace, at a different speed, and just take a breath,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear. “I think that’s going to be difficult for him, but he’s still going to have his phone.”
Mumm has stepped into the president’s role on a temporary basis several times before, including when Beggs was out after surgery in June.
“I have a good working relationship with the mayor and cabinet members and legal counsel,” Mumm said. “This is my eighth year, so I have good familiarity with city systems and the budget, which we’ll be heading into this fall.”
Mumm said the city is lucky that Beggs has poured so much effort into preparing for his departure since learning of his diagnosis.
“Anytime you hear the word cancer it’s always scary, and I think he’s very brave,” Mumm said.
Mayor Nadine Woodward said Beggs has been “very, very positive.”
“I have no doubt that he’ll fight this with everything he has and he’ll be back,” Woodward said.
Kinnear has served with Beggs for his entire tenure on the City Council.
“Because we’ve been seatmates, it feels odd. He’s got a really good medical team and he’s a determined guy, so I have every confidence that he is going to recover and then some,” Kinnear said.
The City Council is prepared should the treatment be overwhelming and he is entirely unable to work.
“That’s not my style, but I’m also following doctor’s orders.” Beggs said. “Essentially I have a plan in place so that if I’m not able to do anything, we’re covered at the city, but I’m hoping to do as much as I can.”
The first couple of weeks after his diagnosis were dark and scary, Beggs acknowledged. But now he’s in a better place, noting that he has support from his wife, kids and other family.
“It is really good to take a step back and be conscious of how I’m living, what’s most important – all those things,” Beggs said. “It sounds a little cliche, and it’s true.”
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