Saturday, May 8, 2021

Jim Dougan, the Story of a Cancer Survivor

Jim Dougan Photos By Maureen Chodaba

Jim Dougan Photos By Maureen Chodaba

When I was going through chemotherapy, I set a goal that someday I would be able to call myself a “cancer survivor.” I wanted to know when I could officially give myself that distinctive title. What is the definition of a survivor? A very wise oncology nurse gave me the answer. She said, “You become a cancer survivor on the day you are diagnosed. From that moment on, you defeat cancer every single day, simply by living.”

This is the story of a man who has expanded that definition. He has bravely looked a monster right in the eye, never allowing it to destroy his life; never allowing it to touch his soul. Jim Dougan, a resident at Discovery Village, a senior living community in Naples, was diagnosed with cancer that originally appeared as a small lesion in one of his lungs. Unfortunately, with time, the disease aggressively metastasized, spreading to his lymph nodes and other parts of his body. When I recently met with Jim, he was surrounded by his wife, his sister and a caregiver from AVOW Hospice. One might have expected to meet a man overcome with sadness and defeat in the face of this terminal disease. On the contrary, I met a man who has embraced the darkness with the light of empowerment.

Discovery Village

Discovery Village

Dougan, who is also a longtime polio survivor, remarked on his cancer experience as being a time when he built inner strength and recognized his self-esteem. “In spite of everything, as I look back, I would not change things,” he said. “I am lucky in that I have not experienced pain. Not everyone is that fortunate. For that, I am blessed. This experience has led me on a journey to recognize my strength and self-worth.”

Bingo players donate their winnings to Relay For Life.

Bingo players donate their winnings to Relay For Life.

To fully understand that statement, one must see the inspiration, brought forth from Jim’s battle with cancer, as he has touched the lives of the Discovery Village community.

Many residents of Discovery Village get together several times a week to play Bingo. Unlike other communities that play for candy, the stakes are held high at Discovery Village. They play for quarters. The fruits of their efforts go even higher as much of the winnings are placed in a donation can for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. In the true spirit of community, Relay For Life is a global movement where teams work together to raise funds to save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer. Last year, the Relay For Life of Marco Island placed first in fundraising in the state of Florida. Team Discovery Village, led by their Event and Recreation Coordinator Judy Mayo, has set a goal to raise $1,000. They are already well on their way to fulfilling that mission for the 2018 Relay For Life of Marco Island that will be held April 7 at Veterans Community Park.

With tears in her eyes, Mayo said, “We are doing this for Jim. He is such an inspiration for all of us. He is such a wonderful part of this community. I can’t imagine life at Discovery Village without him.”

I don’t think Jim’s friends at Discovery Village will ever have to imagine life without him. Cancer may be strong enough to cause the end of one’s physical existence, but survivors like Jim live in our hearts forever. Their legacies continue to guide us with inspiration, encouragement and love.

Philosopher Albert Camus once said, “In the depth of winter, I learned that within me, there lay an invincible summer.” Jim Dougan’s battle with cancer has embodied those words. And with that, he will always be a survivor.


Less than a week after I met Jim Dougan and wrote this article, I received a phone call from Judy Mayo who told me that Jim had passed away peacefully. I had sent a copy of the article to Judy before this publication. She told me that she read it to Jim shortly before his passing and that he had communicated his understanding by squeezing her hand.

Sometimes in life, we are blessed with meeting someone who touches our heart with a profound and everlasting impact. I know that Jim had that effect on his friends, his family and all who loved him. He certainly had that effect on me in just one very brief encounter.

Godspeed, Jim Dougan! Your light will shine forever.

~ Maureen Chodaba

To learn more about the Relay For Life of Marco Island and register a team of your own, please contact your American Cancer Society at or 239-642-6217.

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