Cancer survivor Cannon a study in determination Once near death, official in Arundel is thriving

March 31, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

A macabre irony weaves through Joe Cannon's survivor story.

While he was almost consumed by cancer six years ago, Anne Arundel officials rushed to name a baseball stadium in Harmans for him before his death. Today, Mr. Cannon runs the Recreation and Parks Department that operates the 1,600-seat tribute to his memory.

With a chuckle, the avid sports fan points out that the tumor once threatening his life was as big as a football.

"I'm so damn lucky," said Mr. Cannon, a square block of a man.

Mr. Cannon, 60, maintains a glass-is-half-full optimism that has carried him through years of surgery, radiation therapy, experimental drug treatments and dark, near-death days into a remission.

In 1983, a week before his daughter's wedding, Mr. Cannon learned he had cancer -- a huge tumor surrounding his left kidney.

"I made a deal with the doctor," Mr. Cannon said. "I told him if he let me give my daughter away, I'd be right back for surgery."

"I made a deal with the doctor," Mr. Cannon said. "I told him if he let me give my daughter away, I'd be right back for surgery."

His daughter, Mary Jo, left for her honeymoon in Hawaii without knowing her father was gravely ill. Her parents hadn't told anybody.

The surgery, which removed the tumor and kidney, put Mr. Cannon on a path that would alternate between hopefulness and disappointment over the next several years. For three years after the surgery, radiation treatments appeared to keep the cancer at bay. But in 1986 a spot showed up on his lung that signaled the cancer had spread. Doctors said recovery was out of the question.

But Mr. Cannon was determined to fight.

Dr. Richard Schuloff urged Mr. Cannon to join his program at George Washington University Hospital, where he was testing something called interferon.

For three years, Mr. Cannon took the serum and the spread seemed to stop -- for a while. Then in 1989, a tumor collapsed his lungs and sent him back to the hospital.

He began an experimental treatment in which doctors injected radioactive beads through his nose to surround the tumor.

The tumor disappeared, and more experimental treatments followed to keep the cancer dormant.

But Mr. Cannon remained very sick and friends and colleagues thought he was living out his last days.

In January 1990, a few weeks after he resigned his job with the federal Government Printing Office, the county named the new stadium after Mr. Cannon, who had been a volunteer on the Recreation and Parks advisory board since 1977. At the ceremony, he hobbled onto the field, crooked with pain, to accept the accolade.

Mr. Cannon's cancer remained in remission, and in 1992, doctors advised him to stop taking the interferon. Since then, he says, he has gradually regained his strength, and in December 1993, County Executive Robert Neall appointed Mr. Cannon to run the department he had served as a volunteer adviser for 16 years.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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