A pat on the back for local cancer care

We have every reason to be proud of our Berkshire County hospitals, but over the years, many of us have been told that if we are diagnosed with cancer, we should head for one of the big medical teaching hospitals in New York or Boston.

Two very good friends of mine took that advice and have survived against alarming odds. One had the worst sort of mouth cancer and now, after several tricky operations and chemotherapy, he is alive and well and we are rejoicing. Another dear friend had a double dose of this hated and feared disease — after treatment for esophageal and colon cancer, he, too, is back doing what he does best. Many tears of joy have been shed because of his miraculous recovery.

When you have cancer, it’s got to be tough to get in a car and drive to a strange place, far from your family and friends. Most of us would rather stay near our homes.

That’s why we are welcoming the news that Berkshire Hematology/ Oncology and Berkshire Health Systems plan to build a major cancer center right here. It won’t be easy. Buildings are one thing, but luring the best and the brightest to work within their walls is another. Sometimes, affiliation agreements are needed so the larger cancer centers can send top doctors to work here in the Berkshires.

None of this, of course, is meant to reflect negatively on the heroic work that is already provided to our community by our local physicians. I cannot tell you how many people I have spoken with who are alive thanks to the doctors of Berkshire Hematology/Oncology. David Phelps, of BHS, and the folks at Berkshire Hematology know what the next step should be. I am sure every dollar that can be raised for the new project will be used to build this much needed facility.

On another subject, there is going to be a transfer of responsibility for the town’s River Walk from the remarkable Rachel Fletcher, a true Berkshire saint, to the wonderful group known as the Greenagers. The Greenagers are a group of committed, environmentally aware young people who are under the tutelage of Will Conklin, himself Berkshire born and bred.

Rachel, as most of us know, is the person most responsible for the incredible public trail winding down the Housatonic River in Great Barrington. She has worked assiduously in support of the best causes in Great Barrington, including the honoring of W.E.B. DuBois and our attention to our rivers, especially the Housatonic.

On Sept. 8, folks will gather to witness the passing of the torch to our youngest environmentalists. It is their future at stake so it’s fitting that they take special responsibility for it.

As Rachel explains it, the Greenagers are accepting their part in a “tradition of stewardship.” Under Conklin’s guidance, the Greenagers are already involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the trail. Right now, Rachel says, there is an effort to raise $100,000 to keep the River Walk going. This money will act as a special fund to preserve this precious resource.

Shops and businesses in the town, too many to mention, have been asked to kick in for a giant raffle and almost everyone has. Some of the prizes are really generous. Wheeler & Taylor, for example, are allowing two parking spaces in their highly desirable lot to be auctioned for a year. The fabulous Karen Allen kicked in. So did the Snap Shop, in a really generous way. I wish I could mention them all.

It makes my heart sing to see a town getting together this way. To Rachel and Will and the people of all ages who are in on this, congratulations.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/8/12

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