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Back in the Swing

Former mayor returns to softball diamond after battling cancer

Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2005

Just coming up to bat in a softball game on a rainy night this week was enough for Jamie Parsons to earn high-fives from his teammates, and a gift from the governor.

In early January, the former Juneau mayor was in Seattle having surgery on his jaw to remove a growth where cancer was later detected.

"I've been warned not to snap it," Parsons, 64, said Tuesday night after his teammates on the First National Bank of Anchorage Capitals went out to play defense. He said a good portion of bone on the right side of his jaw was removed. "Usually I pitch, but I can't afford to get hit in the jaw."

The cancer didn't seem like much at first. Its only clue seemed insignificant. A couple of times in Egypt last fall, he felt a shooting pain in his jaw after drinking cold water, he said. He thought a tooth might have to be pulled.

It turned out he had a growth in his jawbone, something his doctor told him is rarely cancerous. In February he learned he had multiple myeloma, a plasma cell cancer he continues to live with after radiation treatments at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.

Parsons came to Juneau from Kent, Wash., in 1972 to start the Parks and Recreation Department, which would introduce adult slow-pitch softball leagues to Juneau.

He served as a Juneau Assembly member from 1981 to 1989 and was mayor from 1991 to 1994. He lost a close mayoral race in 2000. He also headed a 1994 campaign to keep the capital in Juneau and was serving as the executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce when he went to Egypt with his wife, Mary Beth, who teaches at the Cairo American College, a kindergarten through 12th-grade school in the country's capital.

Parsons said the pain in his jaw went away in November, and he was lucky he remembered to ask about it while seeing his dentist in Juneau in December. The growth showed up in an ear-to-ear X-ray, something he recommends.

"The physicians say I'm an enigma," he said. The cancer in his jaw is something that usually shows up in a rib or spine.

"I look at it as a glitch on the journey of life," Parsons said.

web link

Jamie Parsons posts updates of his medical condition at http://www.thestatus.com, where people can share their expressions of support.

Type in "parsons" for the patient id and "jamie101" for the password.

"A support system is so important," he added in a more serious tone. "You cannot go through something like this alone."

Sandy Williams, coach of the Caps, said Parsons' appearance with the team is more significant than the two games the team split Tuesday night.

"This is an inspiration for anybody who has been around the disease," Williams said.

Before taking his first swing the first time up in the rain Tuesday, Parsons gestured beyond the left field fence. He hit a hard ground ball to the shortstop, who quickly threw to first while Parsons was kneeling in the mud after slipping at the plate, laughing.

"I left my cleats in Cairo," he said on the sidelines, his muddy knee still bleeding.

He was still on his knees when the game was stopped so that, in recognition of his comeback from cancer, Dennis DeWitt, special assistant to Gov. Frank Murkowski, could give him a coffee mug bearing Alaska's state seal on the governor's behalf.

Parsons' wife, who went to see him play at Dimond Park later in the evening, said she was glad she missed him falling his first time up. She said she understood he was only going to take batting practice and support his old teammates.

"I have been a part of Jamie and his softball for 40 years," she said. But 15 years ago she stopped actually going to the games.

In the second game Parsons was in right field, which she didn't feel good about watching.

"I'm sure going back on the ball field was a celebration for him," she said. "I think his participation of the game is an indication of how he celebrates life."

Parsons got on base his third time up, in a steadier rain, and one batter later raced home from second to score on a two-out single to "get on the board."

"Softball's his love," Williams said. "It's just nice to see him out there. And the second game, he came alive."

In his two games, he got two hits and walked twice, Parsons said. He caught three fly balls in the second game.

He said he expects to play softball again in Cairo this fall after returning for another academic year with Mary Beth. More of his jawbone will have grown back by then.

"My bones are pretty strong, Parson said. "I do lift weights, and that strengthens your bones."

He said he has heard one of two men will develop cancer before they die, and catching it early is important. "You have to listen to your body."

His doctor told him that living with multiple myeloma could be like living with hypertension or diabetes, which require regular treatment.

He isn't sure what that treatment will be. "With cancer, we just don't know what's going to happen down the road," he said. He has another scan scheduled for July.

Parsons said he's been playing softball since he was 16. He won't let a little cancer stop him from something he loves.

"My goal is to hit one out when I'm 100," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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