“When I first found out, I kept thinking about what I was going to do as far as being mayor. I decided to take it one day at a time,” said Meeks, who has been mayor of Childersburg since 1984 except for one term in the late 1990s.
“I decided that if at some point I feel like I need to resign I’ll do it at that time. I don’t want to be a drag on the council.”
Meeks’ elderly father was ailing and moving back and forth between nursing home and hospital late last year. The mayor and his wife, Delores, were planning a Christmas visit to the home of their daughter and her family in Madison. They had a flight and hotel booked and tickets lined up but not yet purchased to watch Auburn play in the BCS National Championship game in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 6.
Their plans began to change on the Monday afternoon in mid-December when Meeks’ father was being discharged from Coosa Valley Medical Center back to the nursing home.
“I told Dr. (Ammar) Aldaher I thought I had a hernia because I couldn’t eat much. If I went to a hamburger joint, I would just eat a bite or two of a hamburger and I’d be filled up,” Meeks said.
The mayor was sent the next day for a CT scan on his abdomen, and he was at a City Council meeting when the doctor’s office called his house that evening, instructing him to go for further testing.
“They did that early the next day and determined that it was cancer,” Meeks said.
The type of cancer Meeks had is in the lining of the stomach, and is usually a thickening of the lining rather than a tumor per se, Delores Meeks said.
“The doctor called me in the little room and said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but he has gastric cancer,’” Mrs. Meeks said. “I was blown away, because I thought we were going to get some antacid or something” at that appointment.
A week before Christmas, the family weighed their options.
“The doctor said we could schedule the surgery later, but our daughter said we couldn’t enjoy going places and doing things knowing that this was ahead,” Mrs. Meeks said.
They stayed close to home and limped through the holidays. The surgery was Jan. 7 at Trinity Medical Center in Birmingham, when doctors removed about 80 percent of his stomach and some of the lymph nodes in his abdomen.
“With certain cancers, they go in first and do treatment, but with this cancer, the best treatment is surgery first, and then after four or five weeks to heal up, they do the chemotherapy and radiation,” Meeks said.
He was in the hospital for a week, then went home for four days before his potassium dropped precariously low. He returned to the hospital for five or six more days. He doesn’t tolerate pain medication well, so he also suffered setbacks from attempts to use pain pills and a pain patch.
Home and regaining strength for several weeks now, Meeks eats whatever solid food he’s able to eat from day to day, and receives supplemental nutrition through an FTN line.
“I don’t want anybody to think I’m on a feeding tube,” he said. On Mondays, a nurse comes to his house and draws blood. It’s tested, and a nutritious serum is mixed to specifications and delivered to his house and plugged into an IV port.
“This is to keep him from losing weight before his treatment,” his wife said.
Last Monday, Meeks visited the doctor that will do his radiation. Today (Friday), he’s to visit his chemotherapy doctor.
In the coming week he expects to start a five-week regimen of five-day-a-week treatments. His chemotherapy is expected to be low-dose, so he shouldn’t lose his hair or suffer the extreme nausea many cancer patients face.
“The PET scan was clear. There were no hot spots and no visible cancer,” Mrs. Meeks said. “They always do the treatments as a precaution. After the five weeks, they will probably repeat the PET scan,” she said.
The stomach surgery is similar to a patient having gastric bypass, Mrs. Meeks said. She’s been told Meeks’s stomach will stretch to the point that he’ll be able to eat regular meals, but probably not seconds. He’ll always have the foot-long scar straight down the middle of his abdomen.
“When I first came out of surgery, I had to force myself to eat at all,” Meeks said. “I didn’t even want apple juice. I ate three good meals yesterday, and I ate as much breakfast as she did this morning,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
Mrs. Meeks expressed thanks for all the prayers for her husband. “We definitely think this was a miracle. As large as it was, and it was in his lymph nodes, God answered. People in every church and in other towns were praying. We definitely think it was an intervention. Things can look bleak sometimes, but ultimately God has a plan.”
The Meekses are members of the First Baptist Church of Childersburg, where Mrs. Meeks worked as secretary for 32 years.
“She makes a pretty good nurse,” Meeks said of his wife. He also expressed thanks to three real nurses – Trisha Wesson, Cindy Crowe and his niece, Pam Campbell, for helping him as he has recovered at home.
“I also really want to thank everyone for giving us our privacy when he was so sick,” Mrs. Meeks said. “People have been so understanding, and there have been so many volunteers wanting to know what they can do.”
When his treatment is over and he can eat anything he wants, Meeks looks forward to cooking his own ribeye over a nice hot charcoal fire, searing both sides first and then cooking it slowly for a few minutes. He’ll eat it with mushrooms and onions and nibble on a salad.
But first, he’s got business to attend to.
Meeks said he’s been using his iPad and the Internet to keep up with what’s going on at City Hall. He said City Clerk Sandra Donahoo keeps him updated on city business regularly by phone and email, and Police Chief Doug Wesson transports paperwork back-and-forth for signatures.
“It’s about time for our six-month budget review, and we’re talking about a sales tax increase. I want a lot of input on that – maybe two or three town meetings. I feel like I’ve got to keep up with what’s going on and be prepared to do the city’s business.”