Real Meaning of 'Survivor'
By Mike Miller
Certainly no one tries out to be Hero of the Year, particularly if hero is defined as having survived many bouts with cancer. But many heroes are born of adversity, and there is possibly no greater definition of a hero than Rick Ecalono, who was named Coping magazine's hero for 2001 in a ceremony held in Bethesda recently and televised on ABC-TV Channel 7.
Ecalono's hero nomination was submitted by NCI's Dr. Jean Jenkins, a clinical nurse specialist who has spent much time with him. Jenkins works at NCI's shared Medical Branch facility at the Navy Medical building on the other side of Rockville Pike from NIH. Jenkins says she nominated Ecalono because "Rick is a cancer survivor. He has survived six separate occurrences over an 18-year period while running his own business through all of his illnesses." She also notes that Ecalono was instrumental in encouraging family members to consider genetic testing to learn more about their risk for cancer so that they would not have to experience the challenges he endured.
Ecalono's cancer story is a scary and remarkable one. In 1982, at the age of 28, he was the youngest person at the time in the state of Maryland to be diagnosed with bladder cancer. That same year his father and brother were both diagnosed with colon cancer and all three family members underwent surgery. Ecalono was cancer-free until 1987, when the bladder cancer recurred; he received chemotherapy but the disease returned again in 1991. After enduring more chemo, he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1994 and went through more surgery and chemotherapy. Ecalono remained cancer-free for nearly 5 years but in late 1998, doctors discovered that his bladder cancer had spread to his ureter. Additional surgery and chemotherapy were administered, and he has survived with remarkable equanimity.
Ecalono has been enrolled in clinical trials at NCI but currently isn't eligible because he recently redeveloped bladder cancer. But in another sign of his stamina, he says he is open to any future trials that may come up. He also didn't expect to be named Hero of the Year because it was a worldwide search with more than 300 finalists. Now that he is the winner, however, he feels his mission is clear. "It's sad that I had to go through cancer after cancer for 18 years to win the award but it has made me realize I've been put on this earth to help educate people about this disease and that's what my main goal in life is now."
Ecalono would be happy to talk to other survivors or loved ones who would like to discuss what it takes to be a survivor. Just drop him an email at email@example.com.
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