Closer to the Cause: Prouty Participant Trio Gains Appreciation as Patients

  • Gail Seaver, of Quechee, Vt., left, Eileen Samor, of Lebanon, N.H., and Blair Brooks, of Norwich, Vt., have all been Prouty contributors before receiving their own cancer diagnoses, and have continued to stay involved with the event through their own treatment and recovery. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Each Prouty participant presumably understands the importance of the care and programs the event helps the Norris Cotton Cancer Center provide to patients. For those who become patients themselves, those services become all the more vital.

Blair Brooks, Gail Seaver and Eileen Samor are three such participants, all contributors prior to receiving their own cancer diagnoses and all receiving treatment at the center. All three continue to participate in The Prouty, which holds its 37th edition this weekend.

Brooks, 65, was a doctor of internal medicine at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center before being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a bone cancer, in 2016. At DHMC, he worked with event co-founder Patty Carney and has bicycled, rowed or been a virtual participant — where contributors engage in various activities in remote locations — 27 times since 1989.

Brooks is member of The Prouty’s hugely successful Friends of Hanover Crew team, which has raised more than $1.25 million the center since rowing became a Prouty event seven years ago. He intends to ride in either the 35- or 50-mile cycling event this year after a combination cycling and rowing event a year ago. In 2016, he had to settle for being a volunteer due to his illness, which required a bone marrow transplant at Norris Cotton.

“Being a doc at the hospital, I always had a relationship with NCCC and knew that the Prouty was an important cause,” said Brooks in a phone interview from his Norwich home. “When the Friends of Hanover Crew team formed, it was even more exciting because I knew the potential to raise a significant amount of funds each year. After my diagnosis, I had to retire, and switching my role from being a doctor to being a patient at the hospital made me appreciate so much the services that helped me get through my transplant and ongoing treatment there.”

Some of the programs The Prouty helps support include enrichment curriculums such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, tai chi and a writing group for those touched by cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Brooks has grown particularly fond of the latter, producing poetry that has helped express himself to loved ones.

“I was a C-minus English student in high school who’d never really written much that I cared about,” said Brooks, who remains an assistant coach for the Hanover High crew team. “Writing poetry has allowed me to communicate my experiences in a very meaningful way. It’s been a very important part of processing everything for me.”

Samor, of Lebanon, helped design the golf component of The Prouty, which since 2013 has raised more than $400,000 for Norris Cotton with a scramble-format tournament at Hanover Country Club. It was only a couple of months after that first golf event that doctors found a small, invasive tumor in her breast during a routine mammogram.

Samor subsequently received a lumpectomy and four weeks of radiation treatment at Norris Cotton, and she has remained involved as a board member for the Friends of Norris Cotton and as a member of the Prouty’s golf committee. Samor’s only treatment today is a yearly visit with oncologist Gary Schwartz, who supports The Prouty golf event as a volunteer.

“I started off just wanting to support cancer research and helping provide (the center) with seed money they need to apply for federal grants,” Samor said. “After having first-hand experiences at the hospital, I really fell in love with the programs there, like the art classes and yoga. The benefits continue long after treatment.”

Seaver has been participating since joining Team Quechee in 2007, advancing from the 25-mile bike ride to the 50-miler before being diagnosed with a rare appendix cancer in 2011. Like Samor, she has continued to incorporate the lifestyle and illness-management skills developed in the center’s program offerings.

“The mindfulness class really opened my spiritual side, which has helped me tremendously,” said Seaver. “I also learned a lot about nutrition and exercise, which is so important for living with cancer and healing.”

Today, Seaver participates in Prouty wooded walking events while her husband, John, golfs. Two of Seaver’s sisters, Sharon Herrmann and Brenda Fizur, have undergone treatment elsewhere for skin cancer and regularly travel from southern Vermont and Maine, respectively, to join Gail in Prouty festivities. Additional friends and family from throughout the region also lend their support in person.

The Prouty has also long been a familial event for Brooks, his wife, Nancy Philip, and their daughters, Lindsay Philip and Ali Brooks. Now 31 and 28, both daughters have participated intermittently since they were young children, and contributing has naturally taken on new meaning in light of their dad’s treatment.

With Blair Brooks on the relative sidelines as a volunteer in 2016, Lindsay and Ali cycled the 100-miler in honor of their father. Last year, Ali joined him for a rowing section before disembarking at Wilson’s Landing off Lyme Road and cycling from there with Lindsay to the finish line at Richmond Middle School, a stretch that includes the infamous Chieftain Hill.

“It was so awesome when he was back and rowing last year,” Ali Brooks said. “It was a celebration, everyone kind of rallying around him on the river. The event has definitely taken on extra special meaning for us.”

Lindsay Philip agreed.

“Growing up in this area, I’ve known a lot of people who (received treatment) at NCCC or is close with someone who has,” she said. “My gymnastics teacher also had multiple myeloma. When it’s your own dad, of course, it hits home even more.”

This year, Blair Brooks plans to cycle on Saturday and row with Ali on Sunday, even though the official Prouty events will have concluded by the latter.

“He wants to fit it all in this year, which is great,” said Lindsay Philip.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.