Cancer survivor plans annual picnic to inspire healing
Event is open to all affected by the disease
Jim Dobbs has had some bad luck with cancer over the past few years but decided an annual outreach event has become too important not to continue.
“In the beginning, it was just me saying thank you to everyone for helping me and standing behind me.
Now, more people want to get involved,” Dobbs, a Golden Beach resident, said of his event.
It began in 2013 when Dobbs wanted to hold a celebratory picnic to thank his friends for all their support when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“I’m going to plan one helluva picnic to thank everyone,” he told the Maryland Independent at the time after hearing he was cancer free from his doctor.
However, that status didn’t last long. In 2015 Dobbs was diagnosed with small bowel cancer and then stomach cancer in 2016. He currently has a two centimeter mass in his stomach muscle and is considering having surgery to remove it.
“I’ve got no pancreas, no spleen, no gall bladder. I’m nervous about taking out my stomach,” Dobbs said.
He has continued to host the picnics — except in 2015 when he had just been released from the hospital — in an effort to offer similar support that he received during his first diagnosis. After coming face to face with his own mortality, Dobbs sees these picnics as his way of paying it forward.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends to cancer over the last four years and I always wonder, why am I still here and they’re not?” Dobbs said. “I think survival is guilt. It bothers me a lot but to do something like this takes my mind off of it and I’m giving back to ever yone. I’m paying it forward.”
This year’s Jim’s Annual Cancer-Free Picnic will take place Saturday, April 22, at the Brookside Pavilion in Gilbert Run Park from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. In keeping with tradition, the picnic will have lots of music, food, performers and games and will serve as an open house for anyone who has been impacted by cancer — whether a survivor, caregiver or loved one of someone who lost their battle — to gather and have fun.
“I don’t do it for myself, I want to do it for everyone else,” Dobbs said. “So people will know, we’re out here and there’s always somebody to talk to.”
“We have so much fun even if you don’t know certain people you feel that connection because they’re either a cancer survivor or a friend of Jim’s,” Mary Lubetski, a former classmate and friend of Dobbs’ for 50 years, said of the picnics. Lubetski said she’s been to every one of the picnics and sees how the positive environment lifts people’s spirits.
“[Jim] always lets us know how it’s going and he always has so much support,” Lubetski said. “It’s devastating when you hear bad things but he has so much support and there’s so many people there to help him get through it.”
It’s that constant support that Dobbs credits with getting him through his multiple diagnoses and why he feels compelled to keep the picnics going.
In addition to the support of his exwife and children — daughter, Jessie and her husband, Daniel, and their children, Avery, 12, and Autumn, 8, who live in Germany, and son, James, who lives in Woodbridge — his neighbors are always checking in on him, he loves his doctors, and his regular Dunkin’ Donuts stop in Charlotte Hall who know him by name and never charge him.
Though he had to retire from his job at All American Ambulance, a medical transportation company, he said they continue to be a big part of his recovery.
I tell people getting cancer was the best thing that happened to me because it makes me look at life differently. I’ve changed my eating habits, I’m more outgoing with people,” Dobbs said.
He focuses on eating healthy meals consisting of a lot of fish, no junk food but still has to have his coffee in the mornings. He receives chemotherapy treatments for two weeks and then has one week off which will continue until the summer and has monthly doctor visits where he has lab work done.
“I feel great except for the bouts where the chemo takes effect and I don’t have any strength but I do feel good, I try to get out and exercise and do things but I have my good days and my bad days,” Dobbs said.
Despite surpassing the majority of pancreatic cancer survivors, Dobbs said he feels he’s “living on borrowed time.”
“I don’t plan on going anywhere but you never know,” Dobbs said. “I don’t know how many times I can beat the system.”
He says he hopes to continue hosting the picnics every year for as long as he can.
“I want everyone to come, I don’t care who you are. I want you to come and have a good time and get to know these people,” Dobbs said. “For people going through cancer it’s nice to have someone else to talk to.”
Jim Dobbs, front center, smiles with friends at the first annual cancer-free picnic in 2013.