Commissioner Bob Thomas undergoing cancer treatment
Optimistic that a family member would be a match for a bone marrow transplant, Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas announced Friday that he would remain in office while he battled Myelodysplastic Syndrome. Known as MDS, it was the same cancer of the blood diagnosed in ABC Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts last year.
Thomas held a press conference in Chambersburg to discuss his future. Because of his latest test results, he felt an urgency to notify the public.
"The time is right. My absence would cause rumors and I thought it better to be upfront."
Though Thomas' pending treatment is based on the most recent tests, his fight for health began in January 2010. Then he was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia and after treatment through Hershey Medical Center was considered in full recovery. His platelet count showed a decline a year ago, and by September a bone marrow biopsy was considered necessary.
"The MDS diagnosis was very difficult to hear," Thomas said. "The only long term option was a transplant."
The Hershey physicians decided to wait until the disease progressed because Thomas had no other serious issues.
"I look pretty normal and I feel pretty good, I really do," he told the assembly of family, county officials, area politicians and media. His wife Sherryl, daughters Bobbie Brown and Kelly Thomas, and grandson Aiden Brown were in the room. "The logic was for me to get as much out of my life before risking a transplant."
The time for planning the procedure came in March, when tests revealed the disease was advancing. Thomas' brother Ben was type-matched, but was not close enough. No donor was available through the National Marrow Donor Program. Thomas was referred to Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, where his brother Lynn and daughter Bobbie were also typed.
When those doctors told Thomas he was a candidate for a transplant without going through six months of chemotherapy first, "It was good news!"
His treatment could keep Thomas out of the office for up to 80 days. He will undergo eight days of chemotherapy, the new marrow injection, 30 days at Hopkins and then recuperation at a nearby apartment. His caregiver will be his wife of 32 years, who also aided him three years ago.
"As I go through this journey, I am confident I will be receiving the best of care," said Thomas, who teared up a few times during his speech. "On a personal note, I have witnessed and know the power of prayer."
He also said his mission was to promote blood donation through the American Red Cross. He had received 30 infusions while being treated for Aplastic Anemia.
During the absence
Thomas said he would continue to serve as county commissioner as much as he was able during his treatment. Fellow commissioners David Keller and Dave Ziobrowski confirmed that they could conduct business as a quorum of two, but would meet with Thomas frequently through tele-conferencing, with voting allowed in that manner.
Many of Thomas' daily duties had been reassigned to other people in the office.
"We're here to support you on a professional and personal level," said Keller. "I admire your great attitude, sense of humor and strong faith, and still being here every day."
Ziobrowski chimed in. "I'll mow your lawn but I won't clean your pool. Good luck and God speed."
Ben Thomas asked the crowd to be a lender of support over the next several months.
Thomas has been a commissioner since 1995.