When his mother was battling late-stage lung cancer, Duncan Darrow would often drive down to Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, get out of his car, look to the sky, and recite a simple prayer.
“Dear God, all I’m asking for is a fighting chance.”
Charlotte Darrow died in 2001, not long after her diagnosis. But the ritual of reciting that prayer stayed with Mr. Darrow, as did a burning desire to help people who were facing what he and his mother had during the final year of her life — the stress, anxiety and fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis; the sense that they are traveling down an unfamiliar road with no compass, no professional support or guidance, no idea what the future holds, and little, if any, ability to control it. And so, in 2002, he founded a not-for-profit cancer counseling and support services center in Sag Harbor, and he named it Fighting Chance.
Over the 18-plus years Fighting Chance has been in Sag Harbor, it has helped more than 2,000 cancer patients on the East End, providing free one-on-one counseling services, with access to oncology social workers, as well as a comprehensive resource directory for cancer patients, with vital information on everything from pharmacies to transportation options to doctor information and everything in between. The latest chapter in the organization’s commitment to supporting cancer patients on the East End was written last week, when it was part of the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Phillips Family Cancer Center on County Road 39 in Southampton. The center, which is partnered with Stony Brook University Medical Center and Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, offered an 800-square foot office space to the non-profit, free of charge, giving Fighting Chance a satellite office and visible storefront now in two East End towns.
Mr. Darrow was at the ribbon cutting on Thursday, April 25, and later spoke about the significance of having office space in the new center. He is both passionate about and confident in the services his organization provides, which comes from nearly 20 decades of experience. He speaks fast, with the energy of someone who is dedicated to his work and determined to make things happen, to cross every T and dot every I. It does not seem like a stretch to say that his background as a Wall Street lawyer has made attention to detail a signature of his personality. Even the décor of the offices is an important consideration, a smaller part of a larger whole for Mr. Darrow, who said a “shabby chic, down home, comfy” kind of vibe is what he was aiming for in a space where people need to feel as comfortable and comforted as possible while facing likely the toughest challenge of their lives. The smaller satellite office at the Phillips Family Cancer Center is meant to replicate the look and feel of the organization’s main office space, a 1,500 square foot building overlooking the water on Bay Street, with 14 large windows. While views of cars whizzing by on the busy thoroughfare aren’t as serenity-inducing as the waters in Sag Harbor Village, the presence of windows, at least, helps set it apart.
“We’re trying to create the same feeling in miniature,” he said. “That feeling of serenity.”
Mr. Darrow added that the idea was to create a “non-medical” type of environment for people who are spending far more time than they ever wanted to in medical spaces.
The new office will be split in half by a soundproof wall, with one room for private counseling sessions, and Lauren Richard-Holt, LCSW-C, a social worker who specializes in working with cancer patients, will be on hand in the new office. The new space will also include a state-of-the-art kiosk that will allow patients to book appointments at either Fighting Chance location. Mr. Darrow said he envisions the new office to function as a sort of “net exporter” of appointments, particularly for cancer patients living east of the Southampton area, who may be making frequent trips to the center for treatment but would rather not travel the same distance for counseling.
Mr. Darrow said that Fighting Chance recently earned accreditation from the Joint Commission, which accredits health care organizations and hospitals around the country, and he added that Fighting Chance is the only organization of its kind in the country to receive that status from the commission. He said it helped make bringing a satellite office to the new center a reality, and also added that everyone involved in the large effort to bring the cancer center to Southampton understood the importance of having Fighting Chance there.
“They see that what we do is a critical piece of the holistic, all-under-one-roof concept,” he said. “And people know us.”
In the immediate aftermath of his mother’s death, Mr. Darrow volunteered with East End Hospice, but said he wanted to see a group that would be devoted to caring for cancer patients at the beginning of their journey as well as at the end of life. It’s why Fighting Chance is modeled on what hospice does. And Mr. Darrow is a firm believer that what his organization has done for the last nearly two decades is just as important. The staying power, and continued growth of the organization, seems to indicate that he isn’t the only one who feels that way.
“Our prototype is honed,” he said. “The community gets what we do.”