A Tribute to Thyroid Cancer Advocate Ric Blake

Blake Was a Founder of the Thyroid Cancer Survivor's Association (ThyCa)

Ric Blake is remembered for his advocacy for fellow thyroid cancer patients, and as an inspiration to many. Photo by Cheryl Senter

In August of 2011, the thyroid world lost an important voice, a guiding force in thyroid patient advocacy, and one of the visionary leaders of the thyroid patient movement -- Ric Blake. And I  lost a dear and inspiring friend.

When I first started out in thyroid advocacy back in 1996, I had the unique pleasure to get an email from Ric Blake. At that time, he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and was spearheading online support groups for fellow thyroid cancer patients online, and in person groups in New England.

With that first email, Ric became -- and remained -- a dear friend, and an extraordinary, and inspiring man both personally and as a thyroid advocate.

One of Ric's many strength has been to find the silver lining and to make lemonade out of lemons, and so despite having thyroid cancer, he charged ahead and was one of the founders and guiding forces creating and building the Thyroid Cancer Survivor's Association (ThyCa). He also organized the group's first conference. It was the first thyroid cancer patient support group in the world, and is the only group that holds an annual patient/practitioner conference.

I had an opportunity to join Ric for one of the early Washington, DC area support group meetings, and to attend several of the early ThyCa conferences. I also covered that first ThyCa conference, back in 1998, here at the site, and you can read information about ThyCa's origins, opening remarks from Ric at that first conference, and a recap, at ThyCa 1998 conference

In 2001, Ric was told that his rare form of thyroid cancer was terminal. But that didn't stop Ric a bit. He continued to live his life with gusto, traveling with his wife Diane, who is a passionate advocate as well, working on ThyCa projects, and pursuing his love of gardening and photography. He and Diane did a wonderful series of interviews with his local newspaper on living with cancer, and palliative care.

He and Diane, are featured in an extraordinary photo documentary, Ric Blake: A Journey With Cancer, photographed by talented photographer and friend Cheryl Senter. The photo accompanying this post is from Cheryl.

Ric was told he was "terminally ill" at the same time my mother was given a terminal lung cancer diagnosis. I remember at that time feeling so helpless -- two people I loved, both dealing with terminal cancer. And yet they both were optimistic, and enjoying life so profoundly, that I realized there was an important lesson for me in my own struggle.

It was at that time that I wrote about the difference between being healed and being cured, and how I learned that from Ric and my mother. The piece, I'm Tired, I'm Frustrated, and I GIVE UP! How to Move Forward is the one I get the most emails about from readers.

What I learned from Ric is how to treasure the days and weeks and months when I DO feel well, and to never, ever take my health or the health of others for granted. His thyroid cancer wasn't cured, but with his love of life and people and his refusal to focus on the negative, he was certainly healed in his spirit.

Ric was constantly moving forward, living in the moment, and never looking back. And he was truly so much happier than many people I know who enjoy far better health. In that way, he was a profound teacher for me, and for many who knew him.

In his final years, Ric and Diane worked on end-of-life issues, including palliative care and the hospice movement. When early in 2011, Ric's physicians recommended that he shift to hospice care, Ric, with typical aplomb, moved into this final phase of his life, and encouraged friends to visit, to gather together, and to help him continue to live, even while he knew he was dying.

Ric's friends locally and around the country also rallied together to form "Team Ricky," a unique community of support for Ric and Diane. Despite facing difficult discussions about death and dying,

Ric was, as usual, the one keeping everyone else's spirits up, and challenging us all to live in the moment, to savor each special day with good friends, to enjoy the simple beauty of nature. He reminded us of this regularly through his wry emails and through the captivating photos he continued to take until a short time ago.

I had an opportunity to spend a weekend with Ric and Diane in April of 2011, after Ric had shifted into hospice care. At the time, Ric said that life was indeed sweeter than ever before. He talked of the joys of a cup of coffee, sitting with friends, naps with his cat, photographing his wife's beautiful face, and being able to be honest, and to express his love, for people in his life. He was determined to live each moment as joyfully as possible, without denying that death was coming. Again, a powerful lesson.

I could write volumes, and it still wouldn't make a tiny dent in the wonderful story of Ric Blake: friend, advocate, teacher, and inspiration.

But I will finish this brief remembrance with a favorite quote:

"People are like stained - glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within."
-- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Ric had that light from within -- he always had it, but it shined even more brightly in the last years and months and days of his life. Ric has been a shining light in my life, and in the life of so many people, including the thyroid cancer patient community. His heart and spirit shone with true beauty.

Ric Blake truly mattered, and he is remembered, and missed.

Photo is © Cheryl Senter

Continue Reading