The 52-foot sailing yacht Starlight, which sets sail with Fighting Chance and Sailing Heals on Friday.
By Mara Certic
When Wall Street Lawyer Duncan Darrow founded Fighting Chance in 2002, he hoped it would provide a comforting resource for newly diagnosed cancer patients on the East End. Now located in a bright and sunny office on Bay Street, Fighting Chance has become more than just a cancer crisis center, it is a place that encourages empowerment, well-being and survival.
“Twelve years ago we thought our typical patient would be someone who calls or comes in within 48 hours of being diagnosed,” Mr. Darrow said on Wednesday. “We now have some patients who entered our database 10 years ago.”
“People with a positive attitude, who feel empowered and have a support system have a better chance,” he said. Mr. Darrow mentioned this phenomenon of survivorship and said that after the initial shock of cancer diagnosis—which typically lasts around three months, he said—there’s a shift to a mental state of organization and empowerment. Survivors, Mr. Darrow said, frequently want to continue their involvement in Fighting Chance throughout their entire “cancer journey.”
“We just have to diversify,” Mr. Darrow said. And diversify the organization has. Recently, Fighting Chance has partnered with local businesses to provide more services to cancer patients on the East End. A partnership with Yoga Shanti, on Bridge Street, has enabled Fighting Chance to run a free “soft yoga” class. Soft yoga, Mr. Darrow explained, is for people who are barely ambulatory. An instructor who specializes in holistic oncology yoga teaches the class.
“One patient said ‘I want to sing’,” according to Mr. Darrow, and that simple request is how the Fighting Chance Singers got started. All 15 members of the chorus are cancer survivors. Many first called Fighting Chance shortly after being diagnosed. No singing experience is necessary to become a Fighting Chance Singer, their mission, they say, is to “share the camaraderie and joy of singing together, and the therapeutic benefit of lifting [their] voices and spirits in songs of joy and hope.”
This summer, artist Mare Dianora will run bi-monthly drop-in art studio workshops in Fighting Chance’s Bay Street location. Ms. Dianora was the artist-in-residence at NYU’s Medical Center for four years, and now holds a similar position at the Stony Brook Cancer Center.
“I think their spirits are lifted,” she said of her students after class. “I work with a lot of people who say, ‘No, I’m not an artist.’ It’s my job to get them past that and let them understand they can enjoy it.” The art classes will be a time for students to explore various media from watercolors to beads. A grant for the program was made possible through the Livestrong Foundation via Stony Brook University Cancer Center.
One of the newest additions to the programming at Fighting Chance will set sail on the afternoon of Friday, June 20. Five boats will gather at the Breakwater Yacht Club and East End cancer patients will board them for the opportunity to spend a few hours out on the water.
“When you look at the world from the water, sometimes the problems of the world seem smaller,” said Mr. Darrow. “And that’s especially important for cancer patients.”
Three years ago, Sailing Heals was founded in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Its mission is to provide patients and their caregivers with a much-needed break, an escape from the stress of reality onto a sailboat for a few hours.
“So they called us up out of the blue and wanted to be involved and offer this program once a summer,” Mr. Darrow said. The large number of charter boat captains in Sag Harbor turned this idea into a very feasible reality, and Friday’s trip will also mark the first new chapter for Sailing Heals apart from the flagship in Marblehead. “It’s so Sag Harbor,” Mr. Darrow said of the event.
Toby Stull is very involved in organizing the event, which will begin with a lunch at Breakwater Yacht Club. He is also one of the captains volunteering his time and the use of his boat on Friday. Originally from New England, Mr. Stull brought his charter business out to Sag Harbor six years ago, and became involved with Sailing Heals last winter. “I’ve been looking at Sailing Heals for years, though,” he said. “I just thought it would be a wonderful thing to do in the area.”
The decision to volunteer his time and 52-foot sailing yacht, Starlight, this Friday was a “no-brainer,” he said. “We’re going to have a wonderful day.”