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Freshman state Rep. Jim Elkins has been diagnosed with liver cancer.
Doctors in Seattle are testing to determine how far the cancer has spread and what treatment the 68-year-old Ketchikan Republican can undergo, his chief of staff, Jim Van Horn, said Monday.
"He's in real good spirits," Van Horn said after speaking with Elkins by phone. "He's experiencing no pain and he's up and about."
Elkins went to a doctor in Ketchikan last Tuesday with a cough, believing he had the flu. The doctor suspected Elkins had fluid in his lungs and admitted him to Ketchikan General Hospital. He was transferred to a Seattle hospital for a biopsy, and doctors there discovered a malignant tumor in his liver, Van Horn said.
Elkins, a Bend, Ore., native, is a former bar owner and Ketchikan Gateway Borough assemblyman. He is a co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Before being elected to the House last year, he was appointed by Gov. Frank Murkowski to a state Senate seat in 2003. But he never served a day in the Senate. Murkowski rescinded the appointment after Elkins criticized the governor for ending the state's longevity bonus program. The program gave Alaska's elderly payments of up to $250 a month.
After hearing the news of his illness, lawmakers called Elkins to wish him well.
"We know that this is a big journey," said House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole. "Personally, I'm going to back him up with prayer. Then we're going to watch and do whatever we can to help."
If the Legislature is called into special session before January to consider a contract proposal on fiscal terms to build a gas pipeline from the North Slope, and Elkins cannot attend, accommodations could be made for him to participate remotely.
"If we end up in some kind of official capacity, we're going to watch and see how we can work with him," Coghill said.
House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said he was shocked to hear the news Monday.
"This is one of those things that puts the Legislature in perspective. It's a privilege to serve in the Legislature, but when the people in Legislature are sick or have medical issues, that takes precedence," he said.