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Engen still serving as mayor; cancer treatment ‘to date appears to be working’

Missoula Mayor John Engen and Sen. Jon Tester chat during a tour of a local fabrication business in this file photo. Engen continues to undergo treatment for cancer. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

Missoula Mayor John Engen continues to undergo treatment for cancer and maintains high spirits nearly four months after making his condition public.

City officials on Tuesday told the Missoula Current that Engen was still acting as the mayor and remains engaged in city affairs. He is working remotely more often as he recovers from rounds of chemotherapy.

Ginny Merriam, the city’s communications director, said doctors have estimated that Engen’s chemotherapy protocol will be at least several months long.

“His energy level waxes and wanes according to the chemotherapy schedule,” said Merriam. “He is typically engaged during the daytime and working remotely. Evenings are when he is tired and low-energy, so evening meetings do not work.”

Over the past month, City Council President Gwen Jones has been running Monday night meetings on Engen’s behalf. Under city rules, Jones would step in as mayor if Engen were unable to fulfill his duties.

“I’m currently about halfway through my initial chemotherapy, during which I’m infused with two drugs on Friday mornings in hopes of having some energy for in-office duties after weekend recovery,” Engen told the Current. “Unfortunately, the treatments leave me wiped out and susceptible to infection, which complicates life a bit.”

Engen said he’s ready to begin the annual budgeting process, which kicked off last week with presentations by several department heads. The city aims to adopt its new fiscal year budget in August, shortly after the state releases its new tax valuations.

“I’m in touch with staff and council members regularly and feel tuned in to significant events of the day and continue to keep up with correspondence and decision-making,” Engen said. “We’ll be deeply engaged in budgeting here shortly, which is tightly bound to what we hear from residents and our strategic plan, so that will have my thorough attention.”

Back in March, the city said Engen had been tired and suffering from abdominal pain for several months. An MRI conducted earlier that month, followed by a biopsy, confirmed that he had carcinoma on his pancreas and a cancerous tumor on his liver.

While treatment has been difficult, Engen said it appears to be working. He remains the city’s longest-serving mayor.

“Treatment to date appears to be working, with cancer markers down and blood chemistry doing the right things,” he said. “Every day seems to come with a twist, but we’re in such good hands as a community with our committed and experienced public servants, I couldn’t imagine a better circumstance for what I’m living with. Community support has been so generous that I feel nothing but gratitude for all this city continues to give me.”