September 06, 2006

A Fighting Chance for the East End

When his mother, who lived in Sag Harbor, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, Duncan Darrow asked for the name of a social worker to help her and the family deal with the repercussions of the diagnosis. All he got was the number of a taxi service, with the advice that it would come in handy shuttling to and from doctor's appointments. "There was no supportive care, clearinghouse, resource center, nothing," Darrow said.

As the family waded through "a lot of the typical cancer battles" — second opinions, radiation treatments and pain and medication issues — Darrow began to see the gaps in the support structure that needed to be filled. His mother died three months after the diagnosis, but Darrow emerged from the experience determined to "try to turn a negative into a positive," he said.

The positive he sought became Fighting Chance, a cancer resource center based in Sag Harbor dedicated to providing information and support for cancer patients and their caregivers. The organization publishes a yearly guide called Coping With Cancer on the East End, with up-to-date information about doctors, clinical trials, physical therapy, home health services and more. On September 30, Fighting Chance will hold its second "Day of Hope," a symposium at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor featuring lectures by six noted oncologists, informational booths and Q&A's.

"My idea was to bring out the absolute Nobel Prize Winners in cancer right to Sag Harbor, put them in a theater and say, 'You guys want to know what is really going on? These people are going to tell you about drugs going on right now in clinical trials that could save your life.' And that is what 'A Day of Hope' is about," explained Darrow, the chairman of Fighting Chance's board of directors.

Fighting Chance has expanded its services since Darrow first brought together a group of locals to discuss what could be done to better the experience for cancer patients on the East End. "The concept was to follow the arc of the disease, beginning middle, end . . . to let people see conceptually what the cancer experience is like and then at each stage in the experience give them information," Darrow said.

What began as peer-to-peer counseling between cancer patients evolved into a monthly support group led by a Karrie Robinson, an oncology social worker who formerly directed the post-treatment care program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. The website, fightingchance.org, handles e-inquries, and receives more than 5,000 visits a month. The office's library contains extensive information, and the office manager, Heather Matthews, a cancer information specialist, directs inquiries to the relevant websites. Matthews said FC hopes to offer transportation services for cancer patients in the future, as well as greater assistance for elderly patients on fixed incomes. "We want to expand because the need is there," Matthews noted.

"I think we're becoming, slowly but surely, more and more like a so-called cancer resource center," Darrow said. He estimated there are only about 50 such centers in the country, almost all of which are associated with major hospitals.

"There's just a huge need for this," Darrow said. "It's funny — once you build it, they will come."

"A Day of Hope" will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on September 30 at Bay Street Theatre. The event is free and open to the public; pre-registration is required. Call 725-4646 or visit fightingchance.org for more information.

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