Merle Schotanus of Grantham has had cancer twice, prostate cancer in 2006 and lung cancer in 2014. With the second diagnosis, his doctors removed 20 percent of his right lung.
Of all of the things to worry about after that surgery, the Prouty was on his mind. “I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to participate,” he said.
The Prouty started in early 80s as a small cycling ride to raise money for cancer research, but over the years it has grown to include more activities and far more people. Now, it’s a cycling, walking, rowing and golfing bonanza, for lack of a better word, in the Hanover region. About 4,000 people participate. For reference, that’s about twice the population of several of the towns on the event’s cycling route.
Schotanus had been riding in the prouty for several years, and he wasn’t ready to stop. So, after his surgery, he bought a bike with a small electric motor and a portable oxygen supply that he could stick on the back. He made it up every hill, even the steepest on the course. “I got up that (hill) with my electric-assist bicycle and supplemental oxygen -- got to the top, and thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” he said. “I just had to rest a moment and savor that.”
These are the kinds of stories people tell about the Prouty. It’s not just any event, not just any ride, they say, but something with real heart -- because so many people have been touched by cancer in some way.
It’s also one of the big social and recreational events of the year for the Upper Valley, but this popularity is one of the reasons that a controversy over the past year about how Dartmouth-Hitchcock was using funds from the event caused such a stir.
“Painful, it was painful,” said Jean Brown, the Prouty’s event director and executive director of the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center.
“The Prouty’s here to do good and raise money and help fight cancer and support Norris Cotton Cancer Center,” she said. “It was tough.”
Last fall, the former director of the cancer center sued Dartmouth-Hitchcock, alleging he was illegally fired after he objected to how donated money was being used. Donors expect Prouty funds to be used for cancer research and to help cancer patients with things that insurance typically does not cover, things like massage therapy and help with transportation. But it came out that Dartmouth-Hitchcock had used $1.6 million in Prouty money, along with other donated funds, toward basic operating costs, to pay for things like salaries and equipment. That was not welcome news to many who had donated and participated in the past.
“I was very disappointed,” Schotanus said. “I’ve known some of the administrators at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth College, and I was terribly disappointed in it.” He said he heard from many of his teammates for the event with questions about what was going on, and he said he thinks it impacted the Prouty’s fundraising ability, at least in the short term.
Ultimately, a judge dismissed the former director’s lawsuit, though his attorney continues to fight that decision. State regulators determined that Dartmouth-Hitchcock hadn’t broken any laws in its use of the funds, but the cancer center has sought to publicly clarify how the money will be used in the future. And, it’s now a written policy that the center’s director will be in charge of deciding how the funds are used.
Jean Brown, the Prouty’s event director, said the response from donors and participants has been mixed over the past several months. “Earlier in the spring, I think it had more of an effect,” she said. “Now, I’m not hearing anything. So, it’s like, regardless of whatever went on, we are now past it and let’s remember what the Prouty does, because the Prouty matters.”
Many of the routes for the event have had to be changed after floods last weekend damaged roads in the area, but Brown hopes that won’t dampen this year’s festivities. She’s hoping to hit $3 million in donations again this year.