Around the Island

Giving cancer patients ‘a fighting chance’

You’re told you have cancer, a diagnosis that is one of the most harrowing things to hear from your doctor.

Fighting Chance is an East End nonprofit that aims to help cancer patients and their loved ones deal with psychological and practical difficulties that often can’t be navigated alone. Based in Sag Harbor, the group also provides critical support in maneuvering through the medical bureaucracy that surrounds care and treatment. Every service provided is free.

Duncan Darrow, founder and chairman of Fighting Chance, was inspired to start the organization after his mother’s death from lung cancer. “It fell on me to be her primary carer,” he said. “She was fearful. So was I. She had a million questions. So did I.”

Mr. Darrow said that there seemed to be a lack of infrastructure that could help him and his mother to deal with the present and the future. Inspired to help others venturing down a similar path, he completed rigorous training courses to become a volunteer with East End Hospice.

But even with that remarkable, caring institution, he said he found holes in the system. For instance, there wasn’t enough long-term care for patients, so he came up with the idea for a paramedical nonprofit on the East End where people could go, free of charge, and get medical questions answered, find support groups, seek assistance if needed, and get counseling,

Fighting Chance, founded in 2002, is now the nation’s oldest and largest free counseling center.

“Fighting Chance is there for the patient from week one of their diagnosis, helps deal with their feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, and helps them receive the treatment they need,” Mr. Darrow said.
Over the 17 years that the group has existed, he’s seen hopeful changes in cancer treatment and society’s attitudes towards the disease.

“People don’t whisper cancer anymore,” he said. “There’s not the stigma that used to exist. Now that people are more out in the open about it, it means that the wider community can help.”

Cancer treatment has also made some hopeful improvements over the last two decades. In particular, Mr. Darrow cited the still-developing field of “immunotherapies” — therapies that enlist and strengthen the power of a patient’s immune system to attack tumors.

Fighting Chance is entirely funded by private donations, large and small, from individuals and businesses in the community. For example, thanks to Hampton Jitney, cancer patients from Fighting Chance can receive free transport to appointments in the city for free.

The organization also holds regular fundraisers to raise awareness and reach out to the broader community.

On Sunday, August 4, 2019, a Charity Cocktail Reception will be held on Shelter Island at 14 Harbor Lane in Dering Harbor, from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person.

All proceeds go towards supporting Fighting Chance. To purchase tickets or send a contribution, call Fighting Chance at 631-725-4646 or go to and click on “Shelter Island Event.”