Dr. James Scarles, a family physician affiliated with Lawrence + Memorial Hospital for more than 20 years, didn’t hesitate when asked if he would speak this Saturday at one of the region’s biggest breast cancer fundraising events.
Dr. Scarles says he wants to let people know that his wife, Amelia, who died of cancer on June 30, was a dedicated and long-time volunteer for the event – the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation’s Walk Across Southeastern Connecticut.
Lia, as she was known to family and friends, was only 49.
“Lia was involved from the outset,” Dr. Scarles says. “She was also the first organizer of the medical tent to help treat the walkers.”
Beyond that, however, Lia Scarles, a proud mother of two and a per-diem dietitian for many years at L+M Hospital, also walked as a breast cancer “survivor” at the Terri Brodeur event.
Dr. Scarles said Lia essentially won her battle with breast cancer, but later succumbed to a second form of cancer, a uterine sarcoma, that he suspects may have been somehow related to her breast cancer. Whether or not that is true, one thing is for sure: Dr. Scarles, like Lia, remains supportive of the Terri Brodeur Foundation’s mission to find a cure.
“It’s a great organization and a very important cause,” he says.
Two women, Norma Logan and Sandy Maniscalco, founded the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation (TBBCF) in 2005, after their realization that a large percentage of money raised by some organizations gets spent on “overhead” costs rather than actually funding research.
The women vowed to establish a foundation that would donate 100 percent of its proceeds to cutting-edge research.
The TBBCF was named after Terri Brodeur, a dear friend of Norma and Sandy, who was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in 2003. She succumbed to the disease two years later, leaving a husband and three children. (Norma Logan also died of breast cancer, in 2006).
“Lia worked closely with Norma Logan and Sandy Maniscalco,” Dr. Scarles says. “She went to the initial meetings at Norma’s house on Gardner Avenue where they thought up the whole concept and organized the foundation.”
The foundation’s annual fundraiser is a marathon walk of 26.2 miles from Saybrook Point in Old Saybrook to Camp Harkness in Waterford. And it has been hugely successful.
Since 2006, more than $2 million in grants have been awarded to 21 different scientists working on cutting-edge research, all thanks to the hundreds of walkers and the hundreds more who sponsor their marathon trek each fall.
Dr. Scarles will speak to walkers, volunteers and supporters gathered at Camp Harkness during the event’s closing ceremonies, scheduled to begin Saturday at approximately 3:30 p.m.
Coping as best he can in recent months, Scarles’ parents have been staying with him at his Mystic home, providing company and mom’s home cooking.
Dr. Scarles has also found relief through exercise. He is currently training with friends for a cross-country skiing event in Wisconsin this February called the American Birkebeiner, a 50-kilometer race that draws 10,000 participants. His training includes bicycling and roller skiing.
“Regular exercise does help,” he says. “Physical fitness confers mental fitness. It’s a good release, to kind of get the grief out of the head.”
Beyond that, this man who has spent more than 20 years caring for thousands of patients throughout the region says many of his patients these days seem to want to help take care of him.
“My patients, my friends, my colleagues, my family – everyone has been very supportive,” Dr. Scarles says. “My mother counted nearly 350 sympathy cards. When my patients see me, they’re obviously devastated for me, and I can see their compassion. And I’ve known some of them for 20-plus years. Most of them have not met Lia, but they say, ‘She must have been a wonderful woman.’”
Dr. Scarles is a man who still laughs and smiles a lot. His two children also provide him with great happiness. In fact, when Lia was sick and using oxygen this past spring, the couple was still managed to attend their daughter Marie’s graduation from Wesleyan University. The couple also has a son, George, who attends Connecticut College.
Dr. Scarles says he has always had an excellent relationship with L+M Hospital, and he is very excited about the hospital’s new Cancer Center, under construction in Waterford, that will be run in partnership with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
“Lia got really fantastic care from Dana-Farber, but it was really hard to make the drive to Boston,” Dr. Scarles recalls. “We were looking forward to becoming patients in Waterford. For patients in this area, the partnership between L+M and Dana-Farber is going to be a great thing.”
Dr. Scarles says he will always remember one particular trip to Dana-Farber with Lia.
“As you enter the main lobby of Dana-Farber’s new building in Boston, there’s a big marble wall with all these inscriptions of gratitude to donors of Dana-Farber,” Dr. Scarles says. “Among them is a huge inscription thanking the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation for a substantial donation.
“I pointed to it and said, ‘Lia, look! You were a part of this!’
“And she said, ‘I know.’”
To learn more about Dr. Scarles, click here.