By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – After the news was announced in November that Worcester’s Hope Lodge was closing, many were left saddened. Run by the American Cancer Society, the Victorian-era building has served as a home of sorts since 1985 for those being treated for cancer at local hospitals.
For the last 10 years, Dave McGrath of Westborough has been Hope Lodge’s live-in night manager. But McGrath was more than just a manager there. He is also a cancer survivor and, as such, served as a symbol of the lodge’s name – hope – to the many patients who came to stay there over the years.
Now, McGrath is on a different mission – an ambitious two-month road trip over the 48 contiguous United States and the District of Columbia. By doing so, he hopes to spread his message about the importance of cancer awareness in a way that also incorporates his passion of performing stand-up comedy.
Cancer is not the only health battle McGrath, who is 42, has dealt with in his life. When he was a freshman at St. John’s High School he was diagnosed, after years of struggling with pain, with Crohn’s Disease.
“I did not tell anyone all of symptoms for a long time,” he said. “It was embarrassing.”
It was only after his condition worsened and emergency surgery was warranted, that he was finally diagnosed.
And then just three years later, he started having excruciating migraines and double vision.
“But I had learned from my earlier situation not to let this go on,” he said.
Four days after he turned 18, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“I have always used humor to deal with things,” he said. “So I tried to find the humor in this, too. I tried to spin it positive like ‘I get to be around all the nurses!’”
After six grueling rounds of chemotherapy, he and his family were relieved to learn that he would not need radiation or surgery.
His sense of humor, plus the practice of visualization, were critical in helping him recover, he said. But the most important factor was the strong support and love of his family.
“I really learned that the only thing that matters is the people in your life,” he said.
After graduating from St. John’s, he went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Boston College and then his master’s degree in special education from Wheelock College. For 10 years he worked at the Westborough State Hospital as a special education teacher before joining Hope Lodge.
At Hope Lodge, he often played guitar for the guests or just spent time visiting with them, sharing his “cancer wisdom.” He was also an avid fundraiser, organizing the annual event, “Skating for Hope,” a 24-hour hockey marathon. In the six years of running the event, he, along with his family, friends and other supporters raised over $70,000 for the facility and other programs, including the Neely House in Boston.
Comedy has continued to be a way to deal with the stress of life, he said. Each weekend, he performs a set at Dick Doherty’s in Worcester. As such, he is not hesitant to share details from his battle with Crohn’s or cancer.
“I love sharing my story and always try to make things funnier than they are worse,” he said.
48 states – two months
McGrath has always wanted to see more of the United States. Since he now is in between jobs, he decided that it was the perfect time to do so. The chance to share his story is an added bonus, he said.
“Some people think I am crazy to do it now, during the winter months!” he conceded. “But why not now?”
On his website, davemcgrath.org, he has laid out his schedule which starts Wednesday, Feb. 1, and finishes in Worcester Friday, March 31. His goal, he said, is to give cancer/Crohn’s talks during the day to local community groups such as Rotaries and school organizations.
McGrath in particular wants to share his story with young athletes. He knows what it is like to be young and embarrassed or scared about what is happening to one’s body. He strives to encourage other kids who may find themselves in that type of situation to speak up so that they may get treatment sooner rather than later.
At night he will seek out venues to perform his standup comedy routines. Although he will be starting the trip out by himself, friends will be joining him at various stages along the way.
He will also be trying as much as possible to rely on the kindness of others for a place to stay at night.
“If you or someone you know lives near places I am driving to and has a couch or bed I can sleep on, let me know!” he added.
Monetary donations to help fund things such as gas and food can also be made via a link on his website.