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Cornwall man takes on terminal disease with positive approach

Norman Fotheringham, 79, of Cornwall says a positive attitude has been key for him dealing well with a terminal diagnosis. (JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN)
Norman Fotheringham, 79, of Cornwall says a positive attitude has been key for him dealing well with a terminal diagnosis. (JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN)

Norman Fotheringham feels blessed with bonus life.

He embraces each and every extra day.

The 79-year-old Cornwall resident realizes he continues to receive quite a generous extension on his existence.

He could have died a long time ago.

He also could have died a few years back.

He could die in the coming months, weeks or even days.

Fotheringham chalks up his death dodging – he beat cancer, and continues to defy a terminal lung disease – to, in part, a maintaining a positive mindset.

“It’s all a matter of attitude,’’ he says.

“If you’ve got the right attitude, you’re going to last a long time. If you go in worrying about certain things, you’re going to be dead in no time at all.’’

A native of Toronto, Fotheringham spent 40 years selling sanitation products in Hogtown for Wyant and Company Ltd. – a job he began at the age of 18.

Around 2000, he moved to P.E.I. with his wife, Anne Tierney, a native Islander who died eight years ago.

He stared death in the face – for the first time - in 1998.

Fotheringham credits his far-less-fortunate brother with allowing him to go on living.

“When I found that he was dying of prostate cancer, I went to see my doctor,’’ he explains.

“I got checked, he sent me for a biopsy, and sure enough it came back positive.’’

At first, Fotheringham thought the prostate cancer diagnosis was his own “death sentence.’’

However, the cancer was caught early. His prostate was removed, along with the cancer, which has not returned.

“That was an absolute blessing,’’ he says.

“Somebody was looking after me.’’

He welcomed the new lease on life as an opportunity to help educate and comfort others diagnosed with prostate cancer.

For 14 years, he has been involved in a prostate cancer support group in Charlottetown.

Time and again, he tells people with the cancer that their lives can move forward in fulfilling fashion.

“You have to have a positive attitude,’’ he says, repeating his mantra.

Seven years ago, he was again given cause to lean on his own advice.

Fotheringham was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred.

He was given between three months and three years to live.

Having survived prostate cancer, he was not going to let this latest disease set him down without an upbeat fight.

He has defied the initial prognosis by a good piece – and counting.

He has been doing well on a trial drug for the past four years.

He notes, matter-of-factly rather than as a complaint, that the drug has a bad side effect: considerable weight loss due to dysentery. He hits the scales today at 117 pounds, down from his former healthier 178-pound body.

Yet Fotheringham is just happy to still be here.

He finds enjoyment in helping others.

He has volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society for 14 years. He continues to be active in the prostate cancer support group. And he is involved in a pulmonary fibrosis support group that started up in Charlottetown earlier this year.

Fotheringham also enjoys a good Rusty Nail (Drambuie mixed with Scotch whisky), time spent with friends in Halifax, visiting his girlfriend in Moncton, and getting together with his daughters and grandchildren on P.E.I.

Noting he has plenty to live for, he approaches each day as one more gift.

“I get up in the morning, I go into the bathroom and brush my teeth or do whatever I need to do and look in the mirror and say ‘shit, you’re still here,’’’ he says with a laugh.

“You really can’t do anything about it (a terminal diagnosis). It’s something you deal with. If you worry about it, you’re going to go far quicker.’’


Seeking support?

Norman Fotheringham wants as many Islanders as possible to benefit from a pulmonary fibrosis support group that started earlier this year.

“The more we can reach, the better,’’ says Fotheringham, who was diagnosed with the lung disease seven years ago.

The support group next meets on Sunday, Nov. 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Stratford Town Hall. For more information, call Rosemary Matthews at 902-626-7014.

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