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Local Man takes
crusade to national front
by Marjory Sherman
Ric Blake calls himself a cancer terrorist even though his infectious giggle and sweet demeanor are a far cry from scary.
His war is not waged with suicide bombings but with words.
to his efforts, the first American conference for thyroid cancer
survivors, Thyca '98, runs Sept. 18 to 20 at the Burlington Marriott,
For Mr. Blake,
54, of Londonderry, N.H., and fellow survivor Evelyn M. Gonzalez,
27, of Lawrence, all their hard work will be worthwhile if one more
Mr. Blake is a reluctant promoter with a distaste for the glare of the spotlight he knows is a necessary evil.
"I just thing of that one person in some isolated part of the country who gets a physician who may not be the best, who may not get the most up-to-date treatment, then they can die. It's real simple," he said.
strikes 12,000 to 15,000 people each year in America, far fewer
than lung or breast or prostate cancer. Yet 1,000 of them will die,
cancer is a highly treatable disease in its early stages, but you
have to treat it very aggressively, with diagnostic scans and constant
offers three days of workshops and round table discussions on everything
from talking to your doctors, to understanding lab tests
Mr. Blake became a crusader for thyroid cancer support after doctors removed an orange-sized tumor from his neck in 1995.
In the weeks
and months that followed his diagnosis of follicular thyroid cancer,
Mr. Blake suffered feelings of isolation and fear as he cast about
He was sent
home from the hospital after a grueling 6-hour surgery without a
lick of information from his surgeon, primary care physician, or
followed when his vocal chords became paralyzed and he had to have
an emergency tracheotomy after a week of being in severe
He was terrified,
not knowing whether he could return to work as public information
officer at Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, and
Help came finally in the form of a thyroid cancer chat room on America On Line that meets Monday nights from 8 to 9.
When Mrs. Gonzalez learned she had thyroid cancer in October 1996, after months of misdiagnosis, Mr. Blake showed up almost immediately.
He pulled down
the neck of his sweater, revealing his own scar from thyroid cancer
surgery -- a slash across the neck that thyroid surgery patients
"Mine was the size of an orange. You are going to live. You are not going to die," he told her, practically willing her into a better physical mode.
Blake and Mrs. Gonzalez opened the first thyroid cancer support
group in the nation. It meets the second Saturday of each month
Mrs. Gonzalez has gone through many ups and downs since her diagnosis, but her close relationship as single mother to her two daughters, Amanda, 8, and Emily, 3, has given her courage to forge ahead.
Without a thyroid
to regular hormones, her body went through some profound changes.
Her breasts produced milk even though she was not
For Mr. Blake, three years of living with a relatively rare form of thyroid cancer has presented its own challenges.
He has undergone radioactive iodine therapy four times to destroy residual cancer cells hiding in the body.
to become a human "guinea pig" this month for the prestigious
National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. To prepare for
Instead of wallowing
in self-pity or whining about feeling lousy, Mr. Blake headed off
to Washington with the mission of spreading the word about
He wore a T-shirt specially printed with his own version of the "guinea pig" moniker -- "New Hampshire Lab Rat" -- and his ever-present grin.
sick right now. I could go down there and be sick and whine and
feel miserable. Or I could go down there with my T-shirt and Mickey
He choose to grin and make his pitch.
For more information about the conference, which costs $25 per person, he can be contacted at Rblake2675@aol.com.
This report was prepared by health reporter Marjory Sherman. If you have questions, comments or material to add on this subject, please feel free to contact her by phone at (978) 685-1000, by mail at Box 100, Lawrence, MA 01842 or by e-mail at email@example.com.