Jan. 26, 2004 The Virgin Islands are a lot of things. They are a fabulous place to visit, a fabulous place to live, but not a fabulous place to have cancer.
So starts "A Marathon Race to Save Lives," a nine-minute video created by Elliot MacIver Davis, a seven-year cancer survivor, to help other Virgin Islanders with the disease. He is using the video to raise funds for the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute. The video traces Davis' day-to-day battle with kidney cancer, and what he is doing about it.
Rodney E. Miller Sr, Roy L. Schneider Hospital president and chief operating officer, is impressed by the video. "It's a very moving film, professionally produced, that tells others on the mainland about our urgent need for the first comprehensive cancer treatment facility in the Caribbean."
Davis is someone who simply doesn't deal with failure. He just does what he has to do. Listening to the blond, blue-eyed 53-year-old, you begin to believe that anything is possible. And for Davis, thus far, it has been. Doctors told him more than two years ago that he had a 18-month life span to look forward to.
For the past two and a half years, Davis has been fighting a battle with Stage IV kidney cancer. Davis went to the states in May 2002 for his six-month check up, hoping the doctors would tell him he could graduate to annual checkups. That was not to be the case. The doctors told him the cancer had returned, though in a different part of the body.
Since that time, Davis has been to three different hospitals in the states and has undergone numerous tests, with varying diagnoses and prognoses. This has been a tough experience for Davis and his family, but far from something they cannot live with. "What a wonderful gift it is," said Davis, "to have loved ones who know when to step back and allow you to live normally."
Early last year, after what Davis describes as "fairly grueling" treatment in New York, the family found out the treatment had not worked. Davis had found the cancer had actually spread to his pancreas, lung and remaining kidney.
Soon after that disappointment, however, they learned of new clinical trials at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute in Nashville, Tenn. Davis immediately became a participant. Davis was familiar with Nashville because in 2001, before his 2002 diagnosis, he had completed the Country Music Marathon, his first major race.
In the video, Davis documents the grueling bi-weekly trips to Nashville where he has participated in the experimental program since early last year. The trip is 2,000 miles each way, and each way he worries whether he is taking too much precious time away from his family by the trips.
This worry is what inspired him to do something so other cancer patients in the V. I. and their families could be spared this burden. "Cancer affects everyone from a baby with leukemia to somebody's grandfather and their families. I want them to be able to be treated here among their loved ones. I wanted to find a way to help."
"I got the idea for the video about June a year ago," Davis said. "For years I had been committing a significant block of time to the Antilles School board, but now I have been retired because of the statutory time limit on years of service.
"I was running out at Magens great things come to me when I am running and I was keeping an open mind and waiting for something to come to me, some way to use all this time I now have. And it came to me that I'm a living example of the need for a cancer treatment institute here.
All the traveling I have to do to get treatment for my disease.
"Before you knew it," he continues, "I had the whole thing in my brain. I started filming with my home video camera, and I drafted my 13-year-old son Elliot as the camera man. I would run down a road, and Elliott would film me from the back of the car. It was fun, but it became clear that to be as effective as I wanted to be, I needed professional assistance."
So Davis approached some professionals who were eager to help. "As this vision was evolving in my head, Dennis was the guy who was speaking. (Dennis Murphy is a 18-year veteran of WVWI Radio One.) He was the obvious choice, and he said yes right away. Then I went to photographer Erik Miles of Studio Five Productions. "Erik knew at once what I was doing. He grasped my vision immediately to make the whole thing flow more naturally. He and his wife, Tara, were wonderful. And Erik listed my son Elliot, above his own name in the credits."
The video traces Davis' long trips to Nashville, a glimpse of lonely airport scenes, a shot of him undergoing the treatment in Nashville. It is interspersed with scenes of Davis running, running on the roads of St. Thomas and in the New York City marathons, which he completed alone in 2002, and with daughter Elisabeth in 2003 and 2004.
"What I had in mind, initially, was to pitch the video to various service clubs here," said Davis who is president of the Rotary II Rainbow Foundation. "I talked with some people at Partners for Health, and they suggested, since they were hitting the community so hard for donations, that I look outside the territory."
That started things off. Davis looked through the more than three-inch thick index of Rotary Clubs worldwide. "I sent the Video to clubs in every state in the union, 120 clubs, and I selected large clubs in metropolitan areas. I got reproductions of it made in Nashville."
Davis said he approached foundations, as well. "I went to Dee Brown at the Community Foundation of the V.I. to see if it would be receptive to an appeal such as mine, and it was one of those serendipitous things. I left a copy there as a courtesy, and got the most substantial donation so far. Richard Driehaus, of the Driehous Commercial Development Fund, donated $20,000."
He continues, "My own club, Rotary II, has committed to matching whatever I raise. Hopefully, I'll raise $100,000 and they'll raise another $100,000. And I've already gotten individual commitments of $1,000. They're really behind me on this."
And Davis is stretching his efforts worldwide. "I've sent the Video to several clubs in Central and South America, and to England and Hong Kong. We are still a long way; I was naive in expecting money right away. People have questions, and they need to have more of a feel for what we are doing."
Davis said in the Video, "Completion of the institute may be too late for me, but it could mean everything in the lives of future cancer patients and their families in the Virgin Islands." Davis said "The institute will be a prime location for clinical trials of new drugs. It might very well have been a part of the study I'm now participating in. I happen to be the longest surviving member in my study. Now, if the FDA will approve my drugs, I'll be able to get them prescribed here."
Past president of Rotary II, Davis has had more awards and honors than anyone needs during one lifetime. You can hardly see the walls of his office for the family pictures of daughter Elizabeth, wife Debbie, and sons Joseph and Elliot, among all the awards and diplomas, but he clearly takes special delight in his medals from the New York marathons.
Elizabeth attends Brown University. For her account of running those races with her dad, click www.browndailyherald.com Davis is past president of the Antilles School Board of Trustees, Antilles PTA president, a member of the V. I. Bar Association and the American Bar Association. He was Rotary 2002 Person of the year.
Lorraine Baa-Elisha, institute marketing director, said in a release that the video is one example of how local organizations are helping raise funds for completion of the 24,000 square-foot facility. "We have tremendous support from groups like Rotary II
for this endeavor," she said. "We applaud Mac for his efforts in helping others on the mainland be aware of our urgent need for this center."
To contribute, log on to www.rotaryII.com, call Davis at 774-5666, or write [email protected]
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.