West Chester staffers step up for co-worker with colon cancer

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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The West Chester Twp. community development department stepped up when boss diagnosed with cancer

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A West Chester Twp. leader is praising his department and staff for their efforts while he battled colon cancer.

Aaron Wiegand, West Chester’s community development director, said his department’s nine employees absorbed extra work while he was receiving treatments and recovering.

“We hear so much about how government employees don’t do anything extra, they don’t work anything more than they have to,” said Wiegand, 38, who was diagnosed with “very aggressive” Stage 3 colon cancer. “Here we’ve got a department of nine people that never once questioned all the extra work they absorbed while I was out … There was never even a question. It was what do you need us to do, we’ll take care of it.”

Wiegand said everyone has some sort of “cancer” in their lives, whether it be a diagnosis of an illness, family struggles, financial woes or other hardships.

“My story isn’t special, what’s special is how everybody else stepped up to the plate during what I went through,” he said.

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What did he do first after the diagnosis? He went to tell his second “family” at the township to assure them all would be well and not to worry, according to his staff.

Marilyn McHale, a secretary on Wiegand’s team, said they all pitched in, to make sure nothing was missed under his watch, because of how he treats his staff.

“He’s more like one of us, he’ll take the trash out, he’ll put copy paper in the copier, stuff envelopes…,” McHale said. “He came here immediately from the diagnosis… You would think you’d go straight home and like, let me process this. But it’s like family here, it’s like he had to come and tell us… I think it was easier for us because he makes light of stuff and that’s a comfort to all of us.”

Administrative Assistant Beverly Worley — who took care of all of Wiegand’s administrative duties while he was out of commission in treatments — said while nothing fell through the cracks, they still need their fearless leader. She said Wiegand is the type of boss who will bring in McDonald’s sundaes if someone is having a bad day.

“He thinks we can get by without him but we can’t,” Worley said. “We have his back but we don’t want to completely do without him… We are who we are because of him.”

Township Planner Tim Dawson handled Wiegand’s business at trustee meetings and was the liaison with new Township Administrator Larry Burks and the public.

“Basically we just wanted to ensure he didn’t have anything to worry about here and that he was taking care of himself,” Dawson said. “Aaron’s a great guy, not only a boss but a friend.”

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Township spokeswoman Barb Wilson said it is easy to understand, given Wiegand’s personality, that everyone rose to the challenge.

“It was so remarkable… (he handled it) with such grace and humor and it made it easy for all of us to be there, especially his team…,” she said. “For us, just that freedom to know that Aaron was willing to share his story, it was powerful, I think it strengthened staff and our organization, kind of as a family, which we are.”

Wiegand went through surgery to remove part of his colon and seven months of chemotherapy treatments. Everyone at the township, from the trustees on down told him to take care of himself first and set work concerns aside. He said he met many people next to him on treatment cots who didn’t have that luxury.

“They didn’t have that, they had to worry about getting back to work that day while they were in treatments,” he said. “They didn’t have the ability to miss even an hour of time. Knowing what I went through, I don’t know how they could ever do that. It kicks your butt.”

Wiegand doesn’t want to discuss his prognosis, if he is alive today he says that’s great, if he is alive tomorrow, even better. Typically though he makes fun of the fact he no longer has feeling in his hands or feet. He said he was supposed to be off work for six weeks after surgery, but cut that time in half after two falls off a ladder.

“I was home and getting a little restless and decided to paint one of our rooms,” he said. “To paint a room I had to get on a ladder and then I forgot my feet don’t work and I fell off the ladder. My wife said it was safer for me to be here than at home.”

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