Column: The Prouty Offers a Chance to Start, or Continue, the Cancer Conversation

  • Carolyn Frye and her husband Milton, of Noriwch, Vt., approach the Prouty's finish line at Richmond Middle School on Saturday, July 8, 2017, in Hanover, N.H. The Prouty is the largest annual fundraiser for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

There is an exclusive, private club squirreled away in the depths of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center that I don’t even think Jim Kenyon is privy to. In its spacious club room, members quietly read the newspaper, peruse their phones, enjoy the capacious array of snacks and drinks provided, try their luck at solving the latest communal jigsaw puzzle, share stories in hushed tones, or just sit reflectively.

Each is waiting his or her turn to be called into the Inner Sanctum that is guarded by signs strongly denying entry to non-members. Once inside, they are surrounded by luscious paintings by Gary Hamel of tropical flora in otherworldly hues; art denied the general public.

Then, they wait, as I did, every weekday for two months, to be called into the radiation treatment area staffed by an array of friendly technicians.

To tell you the truth, I had never wanted to become a member of this club. When they took out my prostate a few years ago to stem an aggressive form of the cancer that targets that organ, I thought I was going to escape any type of radiation or chemo treatment in the future. I thought I was done with the Big C.

I was wrong.

That pesky PSA started doubling every few months, and the docs told me months ago that I needed to start taking hormones to counteract the testosterone on which prostate cancer cells feed, in preparation for hitting that area with radiation.

Kicking and screaming, I joined this coed crew waiting in the seemingly same boathouse.

Conversations with my fellow members, however, made me realize that each of our cancers is different, especially in how we react to it, and how our bodies respond to the noxious treatments meant to stop the intruder that has infected our bodies. Or how we react to our bodies’ discomfort.

I found that some of my fellow members were most comfortable just sitting quietly by themselves. Others really needed to talk. Including me.

They say when you go to the hospital it is bad form to strike up conversations with friends you recognize there, but I didn’t hold back when a familiar face hove into view.

I found one friend was experiencing his second bout of prostate cancer, too, but when they put him on hormones, his hot flashes were so intense he couldn’t function. Without the aid of hormones, he must now monitor his PSA more often, as he has no other recourse.

On my first day, a grizzled Vietnam veteran sidled his chair up to mine to share his experiences and ask how mine compared. I think he was disappointed I didn’t have much to share to mirror his history or take the edge off his concerns.

Days later, a middle-aged woman sat nearby with her octogenarian father (who was hard of hearing) to tell me about his long and difficult struggle with three different cancers before this latest one hit him — and her. As she led him back to the treatment area, she turned around and wished me luck. Seconds later, she turned again and said, “I just don’t want my dad to die.”

Well, none of us wants to die of cancer, but the chances for that happening does sometimes increase when the nasty thing recurs.

So I’ve carried my conversations about my cancer out of the clubroom and into the outside world. When friends or even acquaintances ask me how I’m doing, I don’t hesitate to tell them where I am right now. And it has been interesting how my forthrightness has engendered conversations with others who had cancer — and I never knew! There are more members of this too-secret society than I imagined.

On the other hand, when I talk to those who haven’t been affected by cancer in their lives, most tell me they appreciate the greater understanding and perspective I shared.

I guess it is a lot like coming out. The more people who know, the better the outcome for both sides.

As it happens, the big fundraiser to support research at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center is coming up on Saturday.

The Prouty lets folks walk, bicycle, golf or do just about any other activity on that day to raise money and enjoy a great communal enterprise. Families ride for a mother with breast cancer, others walk as sponsors for an individual, some hit a golf ball while wearing yellow ribbons adorned with names of the fallen. Survivors are given special tags that make them more visible.

In every way, The Prouty has been devised to make the most of support for cancer research in our area.

The one thing I’ve found sometimes missing is the conversation about cancer itself — the sharing of stories. In light of the fact that this day is all about cancer, in the midst of all the camaraderie and commotion, cancer still needs to be heard. Whether we know it or not, this disease, in its many forms, affects almost everyone.

And the more we know about it, the better we’ll be able to counteract it.

An army is most effective when it knows its enemy, and there are spies like me who can share intelligence.

I hope we all can contribute in some way to The Prouty this year. At the same time, I would be pleased if The Prouty encouraged conversations among all these groups and individuals they have so well rallied in one place. It would be a difficult task to organize any kind of formal sharing, but this is such a great opportunity for understanding that it shouldn’t be missed.

As I wait for the next step and some kind of prognosis, I will continue my cancer conversation. I hope the whole Upper Valley will enter in a dialog with friends and neighbors, as well. You might be surprised what you find out and how enlightened you could be.

Think of it as getting a peek into the inner workings of a secret society, and counteracting that mystery by getting the word out on the street.

Jon Gilbert Fox, of Hanover, is a freelance photographer.