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  • Poet gains insight – and material – through cancer treatment

    Richard Fox with his son Dan at a Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund WalkRichard Fox with his son Dan at a Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk 

    As a poet, Richard Fox has always used his own life as a source of creative inspiration. It's no surprise, then, that the past few years have been one of his most productive artistic periods.

    Fox began treatment at Dana-Farber for throat and tongue cancer on Feb. 2, 2010, his 57th birthday. It took 16 months of chemotherapy, radiation, and recovery until he felt well enough to write poetry again, and when he did, he quickly found that his experience had a powerful influence on his prose.

    "The idea with poetry is to write about yourself, but not explicitly," says Fox, of Worcester, Mass. "You focus on the intent of the poem, and you come out. Cancer is such a defining experience in someone's life; it's where my mind kept going. So I let it go there."

    Fox felt "freer and more focused" after his treatment, and also wanted to share what he learned from his time at Dana-Farber. The results are poems that touch on cancer from a patient's point of view and draw on the themes of humor, hope, and unforeseen gifts. Several are included in the "Better Living through Cancer" section of his book, "Time Bomb," which was published last year.

    One of Fox's most popular cancer-themed poems in the book is "Chemo Brain." By describing an individual who suddenly has trouble navigating a supermarket he has gone to since he was a child, the poem touches on the fatigue and disorientation that can come during, and following, chemotherapy treatment. Fox can relate; although his poetry was on the back-burner during treatment, he wrote a daily blog about his experience until "chemo brain" made it too difficult.

    Richard Fox giving a talk 

    "I had a fantastic idea that I would finish chemo and radiation, and take a few weeks off before going back to work full time," Fox says. "In reality, it took about a year before my brain cleared out enough to do higher-level thinking. I had to travel from cottonball to clarity."

    Despite such challenges, Fox had a very positive experience under the care of Disease Center Leader Robert Haddad, MD, and others in the Head and Neck Oncology Program at Dana-Farber. "I felt treated like a whole person," he says. "I never saw someone at Dana-Farber have a bad day. Everybody focused on getting me through the treatment as gently as possible."

    As a way of giving back, Fox has done poetry readings and question and answer sessions specifically on his cancer-themed pieces. He also participated in the last four Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walks presented by Hyundai, twice on the course and twice as a "Virtual Walker," due to medical and other issues. He has achieved "Three-Star Pacesetter" status for his fundraising skills, and plans to keep writing — and walking — as long as possible.

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