By Jonathan Phelps
LONDONDERRY — Ric Blake knew that his thyroid cancer would eventually take his life. But that didn't stop him from living life to the fullest.
Blake, 66, died yesterday after battling the disease for 16 years.
"He has always been very positive about living life to the fullest," Diane Blake, his wife of 43 years said last night. "I don't think he ever wasted a moment of his life. He was always doing something."
Not only did he pledge to live life to the fullest after doctors told him in 2001 that his disease was no longer responding to treatment, he became known as a relentless advocate for both thyroid-cancer patients and end-of-life care for those who have a poor prognosis but who are not ready for hospice.
His journey with the terminal illness and his outreach work was chronicled in an Eagle-Tribune series called "Living Well to The End,'' which began in 2001.
Blake was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer in October 1995. A year later, he co-founded a national thyroid-cancer survivors network called ThyCa and opened the world's first thyroid-cancer support group in Boston. The network continues to operate today and has grown into an international operation, Diane Blake said.
Five years into his battle with thyroid cancer, Blake learned that the "magic bullet'' radioactive iodine treatment that had been keeping his cancer at bay had stopped working.
When the reality hit that his illness was terminal, the news initially knocked him off his bearings, but it soon led to his quest for good comfort care and the realization that it does not exist as a whole package. Eventually, it led to his decision to share his story.
Through the newspaper series, he said he wanted to turn the public's attention to patients' rights and end-of-life care — including the pain control, emotional support, and complementary medicine that he believes should be available to every seriously and terminally ill person from the moment of diagnosis.
The occasional series, which ran for about four years, followed Blake inside the doctor's office when a team of experts explained that his throat cancer was inoperable. They watched him, his head shaved, as he shed 38 pounds from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and lived for a time with a feeding tube.
Diane Blake said her husband inspired many people with his outreach work for thyroid cancer.
"He loved people and people loved him. He was the type of person who would be there for people," Diane Blake said. "He helped a lot of people out, he was there to support them throughout their illness."
She said he developed many of his interests during his illness. He was an avid photographer and loved studying the genealogy of the family. He worked as a public information officer for Greater Lawrence Family Health Center in Lawrence until he could no longer work because of his illness, she said.
The last year-and-a-half of Ric Blake's life was difficult with him getting a permanent tracheotomy, his wife said. But he remained positive through it all, she said.
"He really outlived his disease and I think a big part of that was his attitude," Diane Blake said. She also said they had a strong support group and an excellent team of physicians who looked over his health.