I ran into Pat Farrin in East Boothbay the other day. He was riding a powerful yellow excavator doing its level best to buck him off and pitch him down a muddy hillside.
Pat and his son Kipp were trying to wrench a stubborn stump out of the ground. For about five minutes, it looked like Mr. Stump, who had been a fixture on the side of Lincoln Street for the last hundred years, would win the battle. Then Pat waved, wound up the hydraulics once more, and gave Mr. Stump another whack with the bucket. The stump gave up the ghost and tumbled down the hill.
Pat saw me, waved, signaled for me to wait for a bit, then he parked his machine.
“Not bad for a guy who is supposed to be dead,” he said with a grin.
He was right. “A year ago, he could not even get out of bed,” said his partner and close friend, Cathy Conn.
Pat’s latest adventure began four years ago when he told one of his clients, a physician, that he was having trouble sleeping. The physician said he didn’t look so good, either. He convinced Pat to go in for some tests, including an MRI.
The verdict was not good. “The docs told me I had stage 4 kidney cancer. It had migrated into my pelvis, shoulder, and lung. I didn’t have much hope,”said Pat.
Friends of the family know the Farrin clan is very familiar with cancer. He had been married to Robin for 39 years before cancer took her away. A year later, his sister Ruth, a delightful character known for the eclectic display of found art on the hillside behind her home, died after a long bout with cancer. Last March, another sister, Becky Dolloff, passed away due to cancer. Pat said his brother, Jerry, died of the disease in 2011.
Given his family history, he expected the worst. “I thought I would die,” he said.
Despite his suspicion, Pat began treatments at New England Cancer Specialists in Scarborough. They said surgery was not an option. First, he underwent six to eight weeks of radiation then moved on to chemotherapy.
We all have heard stories about chemo and how it works. While it is tough on cancer cells, it can be tougher on the patient.
Pat’s first round of treatments didn’t do much for the tumors. Then the docs switched to Plan B. After a while, they tried Plan C, then Plan D, and moved to Plan E.
He would sit down with the docs after each round of tests and ask if they were making progress. They told him some treatments had halted the growth of the tumors, but there was no shrinkage.
Pat was hoping for a bit of encouragement. But he was disappointed. “No progress. Nothing” was what Pat says he was told. Then the docs suggested he enter a clinical trial to test out a promising new treatment. He agreed.
Last May, a routine scan gave him his first bit of good news. The tumor was shrinking. Pat said the clinic staff and doctors all came over to congratulate him. “I felt better, too,” he said.
The Boothbay contractor and Vietnam vet is a self-proclaimed “dirt digger.” For years, he has been one of the “go-to” guys for clients who want him to build or rebuild a road. He also installs and repairs septic systems, and admits he has several jobs backed up as he waits for the weather to get a bit warmer.
Last week, as the winter winds lashed the Damariscotta River into the banks of East Boothbay, Pat was back on the job as he and Kipp carved a road down a steep hillside to a fish house perched on the shore.
He knows he is not cured. The treatments control the disease. For three weeks, he takes a pill every day. After a week off, to let his body sort of recover, he drives down to Scarborough for a shot of something. He says he is learning to live with the disease.
“It is important to know you can live with cancer. It teaches you to put things in perspective and ignore things that once were important,” said Conn.
“You know, there are a lot of people in worse shape than we are,” Pat said as he mused about returning to the Caribbean islands for a shot of warm sunshine.
After four years of harsh treatments, he has more than a bit of trouble walking, and admits he should probably get a cane. But he won’t. “It is a man thing, you understand. No cane.”
Then he flashed a wide grin. “I do keep a stout stick in the truck. I use that sometimes.”