Column: Carl Fox battled for others as he waged his own fight against cancer

Posted July 13, 2016

Judge Carl Fox

-- Superior Court Judge Carl Fox faced his cancer diagnosis and treatment openly and directly.
-- He transformed a personal challenge into a campaign to help others.
-- Thousands more potential donors are listed in the bone marrow registry.

* * *

From the CBC Opinion Editor, Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The following is a column by Seth Effron, opinion editor for Capitol Broadcasting Company

Superior Court Judge Carl Fox, who transformed a personal battle with cancer into a crusade to expand bone marrow registries and increase support to fight leukemia and lymphoma, returned to the courtroom Monday.

On a personal level it is no small accomplishment – achieved with the assistance of a team of physicians, other medical professionals, family and friends. From the earliest days of his diagnosis, Fox was open and frank about his condition, his treatment and the effect it had on the many things that made up his day-to-day life.

In regular posts on his Facebook page, he kept friends (I’m one) and acquaintances up with his health, his treatments and the impact those treatments had on him. He was direct, frank and revealing. Remarkably, in this social media age of “TMI,” Fox seems to handle it just right.

Early-on, Fox said he recognized he was something of a public figure – the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for Orange and Chatham Counties. Word about his condition would get out, and speculation of all sorts wouldn’t be far behind.

“If I don’t put it out, people would speculate and gossip,” Fox said this week. “So, I put the story out there.”

He noted his ups and downs, urgent visits to hospital, extended stays, trepidations over an uncertain diagnosis, blood-count ups and downs, unpleasant side effects of treatments and dark admonitions to “get my affairs in order.” You get the idea.

He’d also explain why he might not be able to accept certain gestures of kindness or advice.

At one point he politely asked that friends avoid gifts of food. “With all of these meds I am receiving, very few foods appeal to me at this point,” he wrote. On another occasion, friends flooded him with suggested treatments for digestive challenges as a result of some therapy. “Although there are lots of over-the-counter and home remedies,” he posted, I won't take anything that is not prescribed or approved by my oncologist or personal physician. Thank you very much for your concern and your understanding.”

While Fox’s personal confrontation has been remarkable and courageous, it pales compared with his efforts on behalf of all of those: who today have cancer; who are working to find cures and treat those with cancer; and who have family or friends who are dealing with cancer today or might have to deal with it in the future.

Even as Fox was, quite literally, fighting for his life, he was fighting even harder to help others. Led by Fox and his significant other Julia Kemp Smith, with assistance from family and friends, his challenge was transformed into mobilization.

Under the umbrella of "Save the Fox" a campaign was launched to register potential stem cell donors. Stem cell transplants, from compatible donors, is one of the most effective treatments for certain cancers.

There were donor drives, informational events and more. Fox knows it is important.

Of the 13.5 million registered bone marrow donors, just 6 percent of the adults are African-American. Patients are most likely to find a match among their racial or ethnic group. While there were no matches for Fox, he wanted to do all he could to get more people registered and better the odds for future patients. Through the Save the Fox efforts, more than 4,000 donors have been registered.

Fox’s efforts had an impact in other areas. He worked to elevate the Triangle area’s Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Man & Woman of the Year campaign that raises money to help find cures to blood cancer. Dr. Joshua Zeidner, Fox’s oncologist, participated as one of the effort’s man of the year candidates. The fund raising campaign brought in $953,000, topping the previous best by $295,000.

While Judge Fox is back in court now, the effort continues. Just go to the Save the Fox Facebook page. There’s an announcement about a July 30 bone marrow registration drive at University Place Mall in Chapel Hill – on behalf of African-American Bone Marrow Awareness month.

Fox ’s return to the judicial bench this week shows that a person can, while struggling for their own life, still work even harder, to lift the lives of others.


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