There’s probably no better motivator for innovation than having a problem in need of a solution.
For Sag Harbor’s Duncan Darrow, that problem was cancer and it arose in 2002 when his mother learned she had been diagnosed with the lung variety, probably metastatic, and they should prepare for a tough road ahead.
In order to care for his mother Mr. Darrow began dividing his time between New York City, where he was a practicing lawyer, and Sag Harbor. But at times, he found himself at a complete loss as to exactly how to do that.
“Coming out of Southampton Hospital with her on a beautiful spring day after she had a bone crack, which is symptomatic of lung cancer, I thought, ‘Now what?,’” recalled Mr. Darrow during a recent interview in his Sag Harbor office. “I don’t know about the disease. I don’t give my money to Sloan Kettering … what do we do?’”
What he did was create Fighting Chance, a non-profit organization that helps cancer patients and their families navigate the system. Founded in 2002, Fighting Chance came too late for Mr. Darrow’s own mother, who died earlier that year, but in the last decade and a half, Fighting Chance has totally transformed the way in which patients approach cancer treatment on the East End.
Much of Fighting Chance’s programs are focused on patient empowerment. Through the sharing of resource information, explanations of the journey ahead, and counseling services, Fighting Chance gives its clients exactly that. Though located on Bay Street in Sag Harbor, Fighting Chance works with patients and families across the entire East End, including those on Shelter Island, as they navigate the complicated and emotional journey that follows in the wake of a cancer diagnosis.
Now, a group of Shelter Islanders is looking to raise awareness and money for Fighting Chance here on the Island. On July 15, the Shelter Island Friends of Fighting Chance will host a cocktail fundraiser for the non-profit at the Dering Harbor home of Kirk Ressler, a friend of Mr. Darrow.
The group is getting the word out early in order to encourage Islanders to save the date and make plans to attend the party and support Fighting Chance.
In truth, there are many non-profits serving cancer patients around the country, but Mr. Darrow believes Fighting Chance’s model is unique in terms of the way it provides support.
“Usually primary care doctors are the ones that tell you — as well as urologists or gynecologists — those are the main doctors delivering the bad news,” he said. “They have five minutes for that appointment. The patients leave shell-shocked, unsteady, tearing up.
“Now what? Most physicians refer them to us right away,” Mr. Darrow said. “Fighting Chance is where you go to stop crying.”
Mr. Darrow said the typical Fighting Chance patient spends three months with the organization and takes part in 12 weekly consecutive counseling sessions.
“In that three months, you also join one of our support groups. You could join our chorus and sing your heart out,” he said. “Then we have 100 patients going to yoga Shanti. Yoga is particularly helpful.
“That’s the core program. You can call these counselors whenever you need and they do,” he said. “It’s counseling, navigation and education.”
Key to the educational component are two guides Fighting Chance puts out for cancer patients on the East End. The “orange guide,” as it’s called, is a directory of resources and services such as oncologists, pharmacies, wellness and yoga programs, hospice care, physical therapy and the like that patients can contact for care.
“The doctors’ numbers change and they go out of business, so it requires constant updates,” Mr. Darrow said.
The guide also details transportation options, including Fighting Chance’s own network of volunteers who drive clients to and from treatment appointments, as well as the Hampton Jitney which provides patients with free tickets to travel into Manhattan for treatment.
Fighting Chance also puts out its annual “blue guide” which offers explanations, practical tips and strategies for patients. Based on 15 years of accumulated wisdom on the part of Mr. Darrow and his staff of licensed oncology social workers, clinical psychologists and patient navigators, the guide details the arc of cancer so people can understand where they are in their own journey and what they can expect in the months or years ahead.
From selecting an oncologist and building a support network, to getting a second opinion or seeking out clinical trials, the guide offers advice on how to proceed. It also helps patients navigate the complicated world of insurance, which can add stress to an already difficult situation.
“Everyone goes through the same segments and it takes them through it with didactic material,” said Mr. Darrow, who noted that Fighting Chance is designed to help patients and families take charge of the situation rather than succumb to the grief and fear cancer brings. “We are helping you de-stress, and that’s the arch enemy of the immune system.
“Our goal for our patients is empowerment,” he said.
Because Fighting Chance offers its services free of charge, the organization needs to raise $500,000 a year. The Shelter Island Friends of Fighting Chance encourages residents to join them this summer at the charity cocktail reception. It will be held on Saturday, July 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ressler residence on Shore Road in Dering Harbor. To reserve now, send a check for $75 made out to Fighting Chance, to PO Box 1358, Sag Harbor, NY 11963 or visit fightingchance.org and click on the Shelter Island event. You can also call the office and reserve by phone at (631) 725-4646.