John Paul Davis has a fight on his agenda.
His opponent is an aggressive form of cancer. So, in the midst of the battle, Davis, 64, said he wanted to be a little selfish.
“I don’t know how much time I have left,” the longtime member of the school board said candidly. “I would like to see my friends and family one more time. I guess that’s selfish on my part, but they mean a lot to me.”
Those who turned out for a reception in his honor at Prospect Elementary School on June 18 and at the Blount County School Board meeting on June 20 didn’t seem to think Davis was being selfish. They wanted to share their prayers and good wishes and tell him of his impact in their lives and in the life of his community.
Davis was diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer earlier this spring. For the past five weeks, he has been receiving chemotherapy treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He came home June 14 for a few days of rest before returning for more treatment. While his goal was to see his friends and family, he said he was surprised by the reception he has received.
“What little I’ve been able to help these folks, it is surprising to me when people say, ‘You did this or that.’ It makes you feel good and gives you the courage to go on and contribute more,” he said.
Davis said he initially was diagnosed with esophageal and stomach cancer about six weeks ago. “They didn’t think it had spread. I came here for a bunch of tests. At one time they thought I was a candidate for a chemotherapy and radiation program but tests showed it had spread to my abdomen and neck region and that knocked me out of the program. Chemotherapy was all that was left,” he said. “The prognosis is not good.”
At M.D. Anderson, doctors asked Davis if he would be willing to be part of a test program with experimental drugs.
“I volunteered for that, and I also volunteered to do another research project to try and help other people. The project is trying to look at every possible cause for the cancer.”
Davis said doctors do not understand why this type of cancer is on the rise. “You wouldn’t believe all the possible factors they’re looking at. I’ve always loved research, and they’re looking at everything,” he said. “It is an empirical study to see if they can arrive at a statistical commonality in people who have this cancer.”
Davis said he was glad he got to attend the June 20 Blount County School Board meeting before returning for treatment in Houston. “It means a lot, and it is therapeutic,” he said.
On the agenda was a resolution to name the board room in Davis’ honor.
Davis praised his fellow board members for how well they’ve worked together even during the tight economic times the past few years. “They are humble, compassionate people,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie that has developed. I just respect them so much.”
Board member Chris Cantrell said naming the board room in Davis’ honor was the right thing to do. “It is proper and fitting. John has done a lot for Blount County schools and I have had the honor of serving with him and calling him a friend,” Cantrell said.
Board member Dr. Don McNelly praised Davis’ service.
“That man’s heart is with the kids,” McNelly said. “I appreciate his service to the kids and dedication to the teachers.”
Board Chair Rob Webb recalled how Davis gave him his only paddling when he was in middle school and how Davis also gave him his first job at Davis’ restaurant in Townsend. “He hired me about a month after he wore me out,” Webb said. “I decided I didn’t want another one of those paddlings.”
Board member Mike Treadway said that although they sometimes “butted heads” when they differed on issues throughout the years, he said they always parted as friends and he thanked Davis for his service. “It has been an honor,” Treadway said.
Davis agreed with Treadway. “I have been at times crossways with you, but we always shook hands and parted as friends,” he said.
Davis took a 60 day leave of absence from the school board when he went to the hospital. His wife, Ruth, has been with him in Houston and their children have traveled back-and-forth during his weeks there.
Regarding his treatment, Davis praised the staff at M.D. Anderson. “M.D. Anderson is a wonderful place. Houston has restored my faith. It is truly an example of the melting pot society we’re supposed to have,” he said.
“If this regimen of chemotherapy works, I take it for 21 days,” he said. “There are six kinds of this type cancer they know of at this point and two of the six respond to this type of chemo. If I have a subtype that responds, I have a 2-in-6 chance. If it does work, I have more than year.”
Davis said it has meant the world to him to hear from friends and neighbors as he has gone through treatments in Houston. “The thing that keeps me going are the cards, letters and phone calls. They have given me the courage to keep fighting, and they are a lifeline home,” he said. “Fighting cancer is hard enough, and fighting it away from home makes it harder.”
Davis said the new Prospect Elementary School is exciting because of the learning opportunities it provides. Davis said he hopes to be on hand when children get to see the new school. “I hate I miss the true excitement because the excitement is contagious,” he said. “It will be contagious with those children, and I hope to be back in town on the day the children get to see the new school.”