ST. GEORGE — Since early December, the three-member Washington County Commission has been a two-man operation. Dean Cox, the missing commissioner, was at a hospital in Salt Lake City and only recently returned after receiving a bone marrow transplant.
“I have made it home!” Cox posted on his Facebook page last week. “There is still a long road to full recovery, but the most important goal for me right now is to avoid catching the flu, chickenpox, colds, etc.”
What sent Cox to the hospital was a cancer diagnosis in August when he learned he had Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that attacks bone marrow. It is also considered a downwinder illness.
Cox announced the diagnosis publicly on Facebook Aug. 8, the same day he turned 65.
“I am turning a new page in life,” Cox posted at the time. “A few of you may have heard that I’ve been diagnosed with a blood cancer (downwinder) called multiple myeloma. LaRene and I plan to face this challenge head-on.”
Between the diagnosis and Dec. 6 when he went to Salt Lake City for treatment, Cox kept attending County Commission and related meetings.
“I went to work every day,” he told St. George News Monday. “I toughed right through it. As soon as the doctor clears me, I will be back.”
While in treatment, occasional posts were made to Cox’s Facebook page updating the public on his progress.
Cox is staying at home in a self-imposed quarantine until March 1. This is when his doctor is expected to clear him to return to work.
The reason for his quarantine is due to chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant wiping out Cox’s immunity.
“No immunity means anything like the flu can have very adverse effects,” he said, adding that while his immunity is gone, he was nonetheless found to have no trace of the cancer within him once treatment had ended.
This won’t stop Cox from being a part of the next County Commission meeting, however.
“He’ll be able to participate via phone,” Commissioner Victor Iverson said, adding that Cox has been continually apprised of county business over email and text messages while away.
“He’s been able to participate even while in treatment,” Iverson said. “And it’s some pretty grueling treatment he’s been through.”
While Cox’s physical absence was felt by the County Commission, continual updates on county business from the commissioners and the progress of his treatment in turn being shared by his wife helped keep everyone in the loop.
“We honestly miss him,” Iverson said. “We’ve worked together as a tight group here. I think, so far, we’ve been able to communicate back and forth very well. We continue to hope for a speedy recovery and his return.”
The two commissioners have been able to conduct regular business without much interruption despite Cox’s absence. This has largely been due to their unanimous voting. If there was a disagreement on a zoning request or another issue where a tie-breaking vote was not available, the matter would likely be tabled until Cox’s return, Iverson said.
“I’ve studied up on the issues and I’m anxious to get back to work,” Cox said.
While it is an election year for Cox, he said it was still too early to think about issues like running for re-election.
The next Washington Commission meeting will be Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the County Administration Building in St. George.
A “downwinder” is characterized as someone who was exposed to a measure of nuclear fallout in the Western states and elsewhere created by the United State’s testing of nuclear bombs. The U.S. tested over 1,000 nuclear weapons between 1945 and 1992, according to the Associated Press.
Individuals exposed to the nuclear fallout in places “downwind” of areas like the Nevada Test Site where nuclear weapons were tested were later confirmed to develop cancers and other illnesses.
Those confirmed to have developed a downwinder illness are eligible for $50,000 compensation from the federal government.
Cox said he figures that may be enough to cover his insurance copay for treatment.
The compensation is made possible through the 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which is set to expire in July 2022.
In response to the pending expiration, the Western Governors’ Association, which includes Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, sent letters Friday to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives last year urging passage of proposed changes to a law involving downwinders.
The changes to the law would add all of Nevada, Arizona and Utah, and include, for the first time, downwinders in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and the island territory of Guam.
The changes would also include increasing the maximum payment to $150,000 for someone filing a claim. Compensation currently ranges from lump sums of $100,000 for uranium workers to $50,000 for those who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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