Rick Vanderhoop benefits from a daughter’s love, and friends too

Heidi Vanderhoop and grandmother Anne Vanderhoop welcomed the many guests. — Photo by Jennifer Kuehne

Heidi Vanderhoop disobeyed her dad, and lots of people are happy about that.

“I told her ‘No, no, no.’ I didn’t want anything,” Rick Vanderhoop said Saturday night, surrounded by his pals who suited up (well, no suits, actually) and showed up at the Aquinnah Shop to nosh, sing, and generally bring the love for Mr. Vanderhoop in his five-year struggle with prostate cancer.

“I’m overwhelmed,” he said as musical headliners Kate Taylor and Jennifer Baird were wailin’ on the deck. The $50 a ticket event included a pig roast dinner, 60-70 pounds of smoked bluefish prepared by proprietor (and Rick’s brother) Cully Vanderhoop, as well as various tasties from 7a in West Tisbury and The Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah.

Thank God for parents who don’t Facebook. A couple of weeks ago, Heidi explained the situation on her FB page.

“I am organizing this event with the help of friends and family to assist with the cost of chemotherapy treatments for my Dad, Rick Vanderhoop, who has been fighting prostate cancer since 2007.

“Recently the potentially life-saving medications that are necessary to treat his illness have become unaffordable. Our hope is that the Island community will once again demonstrate its unique ability to gather round neighbors in times of need, and show support to Rick by contributing to this cause.”

On Saturday night, brother Cully took a break in the Aquinnah Shop kitchen to explain. “Rick was in a test program and received the medications which we think cost about 50 cents to produce. Four pills a day, 120 a month. When the test ended, the price went to $5,800 a month and his insurance wouldn’t cover it. He’s been trying to do it himself, even wrote a grant that got him $4,000. He’s a tough guy. He wants to take care of himself,” Cully said.

Tough to do when a pill that once cost 50 cents suddenly costs $48. Affordability of prostate cancer treatment such as Mr. Vanderhoop faces is frustrating, given advances made in the past 15 years in successful treatment of a pervasive disease that will strike one of every six males in their lifetime. The advances have largely come through the efforts of Mike Milken, a once-controversial Wall Streeter who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993 and given 12-18 months to live.

Mr. Milken survived and drove prostate cancer research relentlessly and urgently with millions of his own money for results-driven research and through fundraising. His Prostate Cancer Foundation today reports reduced rates of the disease through awareness campaigns, healthy diet, and early checkups. Survival rates have also increased in the past decade as a result of improved testing and treatment options and wellness research. Early stage diagnosis and treatment survival rates approach 100 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

The nature of Saturday’s event also had an upbeat, passionate aspect that marks most community help events on the Island. On Monday, Ms. Vanderhoop talked, while juggling the needs of her two young sons and visiting family. “We haven’t added everything up yet, but I know it was a huge success and well beyond what I expected,” she said.

“Financially, it’s a big help and beyond the financial aspect, a key part of the event was the supportive aspect. I think people who are going through health issues like (Mr. Vanderhoop) is benefit from seeing how many people care about them and support them. It was exciting for everyone in the community to come together as we did. I enjoyed doing it and got so much help and support that made it easy for me,” she said.

Likely, 300 people passed through the doors over a four-hour period. Aquinnah’s full-time population is about 350 souls, so lots of attendees weren’t from Aquinnah. Parked cars completely encircled the common in front of the cliffs.

C.B. Stark and her life partner Margery Meltzer of West Tisbury and Larry Conroy of Vineyard Haven came because they love the man. “I met Rick in the winter of 1969. I was new here and he was a supportive friend and we’ve been friends since,” Ms. Stark said.

Mr. Conroy and Mr. Vanderhoop have worked together at Courtesy Motors for 17 years. “It was fun,” Mr. Conroy said. Saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in years. Rick’s been my partner for the last 12 years. I am his friend. He’s a good guy and I’m here to support him,” Mr. Conroy said.

Ms. Vanderhoop also organized a silent auction with more than 50 creative contributions of goods and services that generated buzz and bidding, including items such as construction of an outdoor shower from Robinson Plumbing, a free Pizza Night for 20 at The Orange Peel Bakery, even synthetic mink eyelash extensions from Brow and Lash Boutique.

When the sun was dropping over Vineyard Sound behind The Aquinnah Shop’s sprawling outdoor deck, Ms. Taylor stopped her set, granddaughter Fiona (sic) on her hip, to ask the audience to bid Old Sol adieu.

“Let’s thank him and ask for another bright day tomorrow, full of life and health,” she said.