City official undergoing cancer treatment

By Tom Joyce -
Armbrister -

A member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is now undergoing “aggressive” treatment for cancer, but is vowing that it will have a limited effect on his council responsibilities.

This was disclosed during a meeting of the commissioners Thursday night when two empty chairs stood out in the area where city officials were seated. One was that of board member Jim Armbrister and the other, Mayor David Rowe, who both rarely miss a meeting despite dealing with respective health issues.

Commissioner Jon Cawley, who filled in for the mayor, explained to the audience at the start of the meeting that Rowe, who has suffered from kidney-related problems in recent years, was vacationing with his family. “He’s doing well,” Cawley informed.

However, the same was not true with Armbrister, who is facing a “mountain,” Cawley said. “And (he) has requested that we pray for him.”

Armbrister was diagnosed in 2012 with a type of cancer in which tumors strike areas surrounding the liver. It was said at that time to be incurable, not treatable with either surgery or chemotherapy due to possible damage to that organ.

This was accompanied by Armbrister’s resignation from the Mount Airy Police Department, which he had served with for nearly 20 years, most notably as a community officer assisting local schools and a member of the bike patrol.

Armbrister has successfully battled the illness in the years since, and was appointed to the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners as its at-large member in 2014. In 2015, he was elected to a four-year term.

More recently, his cancer issues have intensified.

“He’s got some cancerous tumors that they (medical personnel) do not want to get any larger, so he was in the hospital a couple of days last week,” Cawley said Monday, “about 48 hours or so.”

Armbrister received an initial radiation treatment at Duke University Hospital in Durham, and will be returning there on a daily basis for additional ones over the next six to eight weeks.

“It’s an aggressive treatment to match the issue,” Cawley said.

While filling in as mayor Thursday night, he advised audience members that Armbrister had sent a text message asking Cawley to assure everyone that the situation will not prevent him from carrying out his council duties.

This will include attending upcoming commissioner sessions. “That’s the only meeting he’s going to miss,” Cawley said of the one last week.

One item being spearheaded by Armbrister involves the appointment of a citizens advisory committee to monitor the Spencer’s redevelopment project undertaken by Mount Airy officials for former industrial property downtown. Action on it was postponed Thursday night due to his absence.

Armbrister has been able to joke about his treatment regimen, including a Facebook image posted in recent days which shows a creature from a horror movie whose face is burnt to a crisp.

“Two of several treatments down and feeling great,” Armbrister wrote in a message accompanying that photo. “This getting nuked is a blast!”

Along with his sense of humor, those who know Armbrister have been impressed by the dignity he has exhibited during the illness.

“In my time with him as a board member, if I did not know he was a cancer survivor, I would have never known he had it,” Cawley said Monday. “It does not affect his demeanor, or his attitude or his outlook — there is never any self-pity.”

Armbrister also has approached his condition with perseverance and strength, which Cawley attributes to a deep religious faith.

“His personality is such that he never comes across as a tough guy,” he said of the former police officer. But, added Cawley, “he is really tough.”

Armbrister’s absence from council activities for any length of time is troubling to Cawley, of whom Armbrister is an ally, voting frequently in harmony with him on city government matters.

“Commissioner Armbrister is a friend of mine,” Cawley said during the meeting.

Although his fellow commissioner is fighting the good fight, Cawley admitted Monday that he and others in city government are struggling along with Armbrister.

“It’s cancer, and it’s tough for us who work with him to get through this.”


By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.