Local News

Judge battling cancer from bench, on social media

Posted June 8, 2015 5:49 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2015 10:15 a.m. EDT

— Superior Court Judge Carl Fox continues to dispense justice as he deals with a possible death sentence of his own – a blood cancer that requires a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Fox, 61, was diagnosed in April with myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition where stem cells in the bone marrow don't mature or become healthy blood cells.

"I just remember thinking, 'Why me?'" he said Monday. "Sometimes, when I was by myself, I’d just curl up and cry."

Eventually, the former district attorney for Orange and Chatham counties decided to fight back, turning his cancer battle into a public crusade for bone marrow donation.

"If you don’t talk about it, what you’ll deal with is rumors," he said. "In my mind, there was no choice but to be public about it."

Fox now works his chemotherapy treatments at UNC Hospitals around his court schedule and routinely posts updates to Facebook. He said he has been amazed by the response.

"A couple came up and shook my hand and said, 'We’re praying for you.' It was very nice and touching to have so many people understanding about your situation," he said. "People have said, 'Your story about this has made me feel I can talk about my situation.'"

His friends also created the "Save the Fox" Facebook page to publicize a July 17-18 bone marrow registry drive.

"The more people who get on this registry, the better," Fox said. "Even if they aren’t an exact match for me, they may be for someone else."

Bob Murray, a marrow donor recruiter for Delete Blood Cancer, said finding a donor for Fox, who is black, will be difficult because of the small number of African-Americans on the donor registry. Only 7 percent of people on the registry are black.

"You’re looking for your genetic twin," Murray said.

Registering to be a donor is simple, free and painless, he said. People can sign up online, receive a kit in the mail for a simple cheek swab and send it back. Likewise, marrow donation in most cases is also painless, he said, noting it involves a stem cell donation akin to giving blood.

"There needs to be a higher registration among African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics," Fox said. "The odds are very small you’ll be selected as an exact match, but if someone needs a match and you’re the match and you’re not registered, that’s a problem."

His girlfriend, Julia Smith, said he's aware of the slim chance that the bone marrow registry drive will find a donor for him. Still, he has "had a fantastic attitude and been a great patient," she said.

"Like most things in life, it’s what you make out of it that has the biggest impact, and I think Carl is doing his best every day to make this as positive as it can be," Smith said.