Cancer survivor: The battle continues on
July 15, 2007
Steamboat Springs — After being diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago, longtime Steamboat Springs resident Tom Fox made the decision to not “burden” his family, friends and co-workers with the bad news.
Fox, 57, who owns Fox Construction, confided in his sister, a breast cancer survivor, and only told his wife and three daughters he was having surgery to remove the rapidly-spreading and serious cancer about a week before he went under the knife.
It was a surprise to many when Fox took to the field last year to participate in the inaugural Relay for Life.
“I guess you could say it was the first time I came out, per se, as a cancer survivor,” he said. “I had about two dozen people come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t know you had cancer.’ And I’d say, ‘You weren’t supposed to know.’ By the same token, there were, like, 10 people there that I didn’t know had cancer. It’s encouraging to see all those people still standing.”
This year, Fox Construction is sponsoring the 2007 Relay for Life Survivor’s Tent.
“It’s a great thing,” he said. “I really support it. It can be a very encouraging thing to see how many cancer survivors there are here.”
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While there still is a risk of Fox’s cancer returning, he doesn’t dwell on it and isn’t planning for the worst.
“I wasn’t going to let this take me down,” he said. “I just live my life as I always have. I know a lot of people just quit their lives when they get sick, but that would have been a mistake for me. Hiding my cancer from people and continuing to work was a blessing in disguise.”
Although Fox said he doesn’t have many regrets about how he chose to handle his cancer, he does wish he had been “less naÃive” about his health. Fox now encourages men to stay on top of their testing and to have routine prostate exams.
“I’ve learned you really need to be very on top of what’s happening to you in the medical world,” he said. “You have to take care of yourself because it’s ignorant to assume you’re always going to be fine. Many of my friends are just as ignorant as I was, I’m sure.”
‘Something was wrong’
Fox, who has an impeccable sense of humor, a bright smile and still drinks beer “to keep his weight up,” spent Wednesday afternoon preparing for one of his favorite annual vacations: a fishing trip to Ontario.
While lugging around boxes of food and tackle boxes, Fox said he remembered what it was like when he was first diagnosed in January 2005. After receiving an unsettlingly high score from a blood test, Fox went to an urologist for further testing.
“I could tell by (the doctor’s) reaction that something was wrong,” he said. “Ten out of the 12 biopsies I had done were cancerous.”
The next several months were like a rollercoaster, he said.
“I was totally in shock, in total disbelief,” he said. “I immediately thought it was a death wish. I thought about never seeing my kids graduate or get married or have grandkids.”
The reality and severity of the situation really set in after Fox flew to Detroit to get a second opinion.
“Unfortunately, the answer was the same,” he said. “Fifteen hundred dollars later, and I was told the exact same thing I was told here by our local doctors.”
Because Fox’s cancer had developed so quickly, he was rushed into surgery about two weeks later. He took five days off from work during Blues Break – Steamboat’s spring break, when the city basically shuts down – to have the operation, never once telling friends or co-workers.
“I was in there secretively – even in our town. It was hard to do,” he said.
Fox said he was able to play off the chemotherapy treatments he was receiving as a fashion trend.
“I lost all my hair, but the bald-head look was in so I convinced everyone I was just doing the NBA thing,” he said. “It was really pretty easy.”
Mr. Macho Man
Sarah Fox, 24, one of Fox’s three daughters, said her family was heartbroken to first hear their dad and best friend was suffering from cancer.
“We were like, ‘Holy cow, what the heck?'” she said. “We all started bawling. We couldn’t believe it. He’s always had the attitude that it couldn’t happen to him. He was Mr. Macho Man.”
Sarah Fox said she wasn’t surprised her father chose to handle his cancer the way he did.
“Dad doesn’t like people gawking over him, and he hates when he’s sick,” she said. “We just leave him alone. He goes to sleep for two days, and then he’s fine.”
Battling cancer is never easy, but it’s especially difficult when you deal with it alone, she said.
“I’m so proud of my dad. It’s really hard to battle cancer, and he really did a lot of it on his own because he didn’t have a lot of support because he didn’t tell anyone,” she said.
Creating a support group
Years after first being diagnosed, Fox is more comfortable talking about his experiences and has been on a crusade to encourage other men to get routine check-ups.
He’d like to help start or participate in a local men’s survivor support group.
“Women got it right when they bonded together long ago to seek support and raise money for breast cancer research,” he said. “Men, on the other hand, have done what I did.”
Having an opportunity to talk to other men who have gone through similar experiences is a lot easier than talking to people who haven’t, he said.
“The initial moment you find out you have cancer and the months during and after an operation, where does a man go to talk to someone?” he said. “It’d be nice to look into a another guy’s eyes and say there is a chance you’re going to live. You can’t speak the language unless you’ve been there.”
Since going through his ordeal, Sarah Fox has noticed her dad spending more and more time counseling people.
“I’m just as proud if not prouder for him helping other people get through their hardest times,” she said. “There are times he’ll be on the phone for hours with someone just talking to them. When I was in college, I could barely talk to him for two seconds. It’s been awesome.”
Sarah Fox also is putting together a Fox Construction team to walk in the Aug. 10 and 11 Relay for Life to support her dad and other cancer survivors.
“It’s a great thing to do,” she said.
Fox said he would continue to live his life to the fullest.
“You keep surviving until you don’t,” he said.
– To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234
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