As reported by the New London Day, October 3, 2004.

For Some, Cancer Opened Door to Enlightenment

By Judy Benson

Norwich— Like most people, Dennison Allen always figured cancer was a disease someone else got.

Besides, as first selectman for the Town of Sprague, he didn't have time to be seriously ill. That was, in fact, his first thought when he learned a year ago that he had Hodgkin's disease. At the time, Allen was in the middle of campaigning for his second term as the chief elected official of the town of about 3,000.

“When the doctor came in and told me, ‘I have some bad news. You have cancer,' I said, “Well, what are you going to do about it? I don't have time for this. I have an election to win,” Allen, 66, recalled Saturday.

He shared his experiences to an audience of more than 200 cancer survivors, their families and caregivers during the fourth annual Cancer Survivors Day celebration at The William W. Backus Hospital. Allen told how his bout with Hodgkin's disease a year ago tempered his obsessive work habits, deepened his religious faith and helped him understand his own strengths and limitations.

“We don't have control over all things in our life, but we have control over some things,” he said. “No matter how things go, there's always a bigger picture you don't see.”

Allen kept working throughout his treatment, which included chemotherapy, but shortened his days and skipped unessential night meetings, something he said he would never have done previously. At one point his secretary brought checks and other important papers to the hospital for him to sign.

“I learned that I could pick and choose,” Allen said. “I learned to stop when I got tired.”

To his surprise, he found that cancer treatment was not a depressing experience, but an uplifting one. Other cancer patients, friends and family members provided the support he needed.

After his talk, Allen asked all the cancer survivors present to stand in groups according to the number of years they've been free of the disease. Each wore pins telling their number of years, ranging from 33 years to 1 year.

Before Allen's speech, survivors perused tables with giveaway items and informational materials about different types of cancer, healthy eating and support groups. They dined on a lunch of hot dogs, cheeseburgers, cole slaw, chips, watermelon, cookies and cake.

The keynote speaker for the day, Dr. Carolyn Runowicz of the University of Connecticut Cancer Center in Farmington, envisioned one day eliminating the disease altogether. Recent medical advances have given her confidence that this is possible, Runowicz said, who described herself as a 12-year survivor of breast cancer.

She is also a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board, which helps direct federal cancer prevention, research and treatment efforts.

“In my mind the future is very bright,” she said. “I don't think we can cut our way into the future — and I'm a surgeon — and I don't think we can burn our way into the future — and that means radiation. And I don't think we can poison our way into the future, and that means chemotherapy”

But emerging treatments that use gene therapies, analysis of tumors and unstable proteins and the implantation of very small machines to do corrective surgery, she believes, will provide the cure for cancer.

The author of four books about cancer, Runowicz said that while there is no foolproof way to prevent cancer, people could take steps to reduce their risk.

After her own bout with breast cancer, she said, she “became religious about eating six fruits and vegetables a day, and I became religious about my caloric intake.

“I don't want to get cancer again,” she said. “I started working out like a dog. At first I hated it, but now I love it. You look and feel better.”

Writing about her own breast cancer for one of her books, she said, helped her cope with the experience and she now advises her patients to do the same, in a diary or other format.

“Get it out,” she said. “Then you can move forward.”