On a September Saturday in 2004, Frank Dalziel sat in a cold, white, windowless hospital room and was told he had colon cancer.
He wasn’t surprised.
After a year of being seriously ill and having done extensive research about his symptoms, Dalziel had come to the same conclusion, even before five hours of testing at Providence Medical Center in Medford.
The news came to then 34-year-old Dalziel five years after he lost his mother to ovarian cancer, and he was determined to fight.
“I remember thinking, you beat my mom but you won’t beat me,” said Dalziel. “I’ve never had one of those ‘woe is me’ moments.”
Despite his fighting attitude, there was one thing he dreaded doing that day – a thing that proved to be the most difficult of all.
“Calling my Dad was the hardest thing, because I had to say, ‘oh, here we go again,’ “ recalls Dalziel, looking away for a moment, unable to speak. “That was so tough.”
He soon began six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments together, followed by surgery in December. One week later he began four and a half more months of chemotherapy.
His last treatment was May 5, 2005, and he has been cancer-free ever since.
But his road has not been easy. Not by a long shot.
It’s Thursday evening, and Dalziel is looking healthy and energetic, pacing back and forth and talking into his phone. He is calling local businesses and artists, seeking donations for his upcoming annual benefit for the American Cancer Society on Sunday.
The event will be the 3rdannual Friends of Frank Benefit held at Alex’s Plaza Restaurant in Ashland, and is a run-up to the Relay for Life, held the following Saturday at Southern Oregon University’s Raider Stadium.
Last year’s event at Alex’s raised $8,000, up from the previous year’s $5,000. That was 2010 – Dalziel’s five-year anniversary of being cancer-free.
“We’re hoping for $10,000 this year,” he says with a smile. “And I know we can do it.”
This year’s benefit runs from Noon to 11 p.m., with musical acts including blues legend James Harman, The Rhythm Kings, The Robbie DaCosta Trio and Frankie Hernandez. Raffles are held throughout the day and a donation of $10 is requested at the door.
Though he admits preparation for the benefit is hectic, he revels in the fact that he is making a difference.
“My father was diagnosed with esophageal and prostate cancer, and has been battling both for the last two years,” says Dalziel.
And he’s winning.
“He’s 80 and doing great. For me, that’s why I do this benefit: this money goes to research and coming up with solutions… and it helps a community that was there for me.”
Five years before he organized the first benefit, Dalziel was having a hard time managing his own medical expenses.
“I didn’t have insurance,” he explains, “There were jars all over town with my face on them for donations.”
He eventually qualified for VOLPAC, a Jackson County program that allows for the admission and treatment of qualified patients who wouldn’t normally be able to afford their medical bills.
Under this program, and with help from the community, Dalziel began his treatment – the second round of which he admits was the worst.
“I lost all my hair, couldn’t eat, dropped 45 pounds and weighed less than I did when I graduated high school,” Dalziel says grimly.
During this difficult time he went to a friend’s wedding in Florida. He was sitting in the hotel, when a stranger approached him and began talking to him about cancer.
“Later that night I suffered an attack,” says Dalziel, his voice shaking. “I was in a hallway, very sick, and here comes this stranger again.”
Dalziel’s brow furrows, he screws his wet eyes shut and his lips begin to quiver.
“So this guy said, ‘I was at home, and I just knew you needed me, so I came,’ “ Dalziel says slowly, fighting tears. “It was a miracle.”
After surgery, two rounds of chemotherapy, four colonoscopies and endless check-ups, Dalziel came out on the other side, cancer-free and determined to make a difference.
He says that the prognosis for cancer patients these days is much better than it was five or ten years ago, but the fight needs to continue toward furthering research.
Five years ago, a friend’s sister passed away from colon cancer after being cancer-free for seven years. That makes this year an especially tough one for Dalziel.
“There’s not a day I don’t think about it returning,” he says. “Any cancer survivor always has that in the back of their head.”