While practicing medicine in Juneau for almost three decades, Dr. William Cole has learned how to tell patients they have cancer.
Faced with cancer of his own, he is encouraged after watching others handle disease in a courageous manner, he said from Seattle, where he is undergoing chemotherapy.
"I take inspiration from patients I've seen," he said.
Cole, who had skin cancer in a lymph node, has taken time off from Family Practice Physicians since mid-September, but expects to see patients again after returning to Juneau in late January.
"I'm very thankful for the support I got from my office and the people I work with, filling in for me right away," he said.
Surgery appears to have been successful, Cole said.
"You don't know if it's gone," he added. With cancer there's always some fear, he said. "It's the nature of the beast."
Cole and his wife, Lynette, also said the community has helped with its support. They set up a page on a Web site - www.thestatus.com - to allow well-wishers to follow his progress. Cole said he got the idea from former Juneau Mayor Jamie Parsons, a cancer patient who has a page on the site.
Cole even has fans who say they don't like doctors.
"He's understanding," said Juneau resident Lou Edwards, who has known Cole since 1981. "I hate doctors. I avoid them like the plague. (Cole) picked up on that."
Still, Cole was always there when Edwards needed him. He recalled a time when he called with what he thought was a problem, and Cole told him to come in right away.
Lynette Cole said the family has faced some recent challenges, considering her husband's health and their daughter and son-in-law facing a natural disaster. "It's been a ...," she said, trailing off. "We're all fine."
Their daughter and son-in-law, Maren and Christopher McLaren, haven't returned to their New Orleans home since Hurricane Katrina came through the neighborhood at the end of August. The storm left 3 feet of water in their home.
People can check on Dr. William Cole's status and wish him well among the patient pages at www.thestatus.com. Type in "Cole" for the patient's ID and "hopewell43" for the password.
Also in August, "I noticed a little, teeny thing behind my ear," he said. He had it checked out and learned that he had cancer.
"At first I thought I was overreacting," Cole said. "Fortunately, I was able to catch it when I did."
Cole said fighting the cancer is complicated by the fact that he received a liver transplant in 1993 after contracting hepatitis C from handling blood. Balancing the cancer treatment with adjustments in the immunity-suppression medication he takes to prevent liver rejection "is a tightrope," he said.
He said he is thankful that he isn't one of the 44 million Americans who lack health insurance.
Some people wonder if cancer is more prevalent in Alaska, Cole said. But he believes it isn't that cancer is common here - it's that people in this part of the country are better at knowing and caring if their friends and neighbors have cancer.
A native of Virginia, Cole came to Juneau from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle in 1976. He was invited to help at the medical practice in May and June, but Juneau inspired him to sell his home in Seattle and move here with his wife and their two children.
"You're nestled into the wilderness, right outside your back door," he said. "It's been a good life."
And the people here have been good to him too, he added. "People of all religions and spiritual persuasions are praying for us. We're really lucky."
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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