Jarvis’ health issues return

Outspoken councilmember has emergency appendectomy that leads to discovery of colon cancer

Councilmember Coleen Jarvis, seen here two years ago at a press conference, is a lawyer during the day who contracts with the county as a juvenile dependency attorney representing minors or adults in dependency hearings.

Councilmember Coleen Jarvis, seen here two years ago at a press conference, is a lawyer during the day who contracts with the county as a juvenile dependency attorney representing minors or adults in dependency hearings.

Photo By Tom Angel

Political decisions: Coleen Jarvis was first elected to the Chico City Council in 1996 and re-elected comfortably in 2000. She is again up for re-election this fall but has yet to decide whether she will run.

Health problems forced Chico City Councilmember Coleen Jarvis to miss this week’s all-day council meeting, but she vows to be at the next meeting May 6.

Jarvis, who is also the city’s vice-mayor, an attorney and a Chico State University instructor, says doctors have ordered her to take the next six weeks off work from her law practice, but she said she will continue to teach until the end of the semester.

Two weeks ago, Jarvis underwent an emergency appendectomy, and doctors discovered cancer in part of her colon. They removed the cancerous section of her intestines, and she is now recovering at home.

Two years ago doctors discovered cancer in Jarvis’ colon had traveled and formed a tumor on the left side of her brain stem. She underwent radiation treatment for the tumor and had the colon cancer surgically removed.

For the next year she was cancer free, but last December another tumor was discovered in her brain, this one on the right side of the stem. Again she received radiation treatment, which has shown some progress in shrinking the tumor.

But in recent weeks swelling of the scar tissue surrounding the original tumor has affected her ability to speak. At first her tongue went numb. Her speech at the April 6 council meeting was noticeably slurred. Now her vocal cords are paralyzed, and she can speak only in a soft whisper. She has also lost hearing in her right ear and begun suffering painful headaches.

Through it all the otherwise outspoken councilmember has remained amazingly upbeat, joking that the steroids her doctors have prescribed will help her smack more homeruns and pointing to the irony of her forced silence.

“I have lost 80 percent of my left vocal cord, meaning I cannot speak,” she said in a typed statement this week. “What a position for an attorney to be in!”

She said she is not in pain right now.

“The surgery went extremely well, and except for some numbness and tingling in my right hip area [involved in the removal of the colon cancer], I am fine,” she wrote. “I will need radiation and chemo for several weeks. Fortunately, the chemo is in pill form and we are hoping without many side effects, but who knows? Radiation will be on my colon, so I will not have to lose hair.”

She said the appendectomy operation was a blessing in that it led doctors to discover the colon cancer.

Jarvis, besides looking understandably tired and suffering from a nagging cough due to a thrush infection in her throat related to the steroid use, was moving around well this week and said her doctors were impressed by how quickly she was recovering from the surgery. It took place on a Thursday, and she was home by Sunday.

The doctor who removed the first brain tumor has moved to Colorado. If further surgery is required on the second tumor, Jarvis will most likely have to go to UC Davis Medical Center, in Sacramento, or Stanford University Hospital.

She said her doctor has been reluctant to perform surgery on the second tumor because the more radiation that has been used, the more difficult it is to recover from invasive surgery.

Amazingly, Jarvis still attended two proclamations last week, one for the dedication of the Esplanade House, the other for an AA conference. In both cases friend Mary Flynn read the proclamations for her.

“I won’t be doing anymore of those any time soon,” Jarvis said, “Too difficult. It’s just that I’d already committed to those.”

As for the missed council meeting, she said she had spoken with Mayor Maureen Kirk and City Manager Tom Lando, who told her there were not many action items—those that require a council vote—on the agenda.

Jarvis will wed longtime partner Michael Stauffer on May 29.

“I am not sure what lies ahead,” Jarvis said. “I do know I have been ordered off work for six weeks. I will finish teaching, but have found some help to represent my clients. I will not be attending council meetings except for those meetings most important to me and/or the city.”

Because she cannot talk on the phone, she has asked people to contact her via e-mail at coleenjarvis@aol.com.

“What we are left with," she said this week, "is an outspoken councilmember who can’t talk."