June 2022 Newsletter

The People of the Park…

Alicia McCormick

by Dale Dauten

You meet Alicia McCormick, with her ebullient personality and her ready laugh, or maybe you see her playing pickleball or leading a water aerobics class, and you’d think, There’s the picture of health. Well, yes. But we have another picture to show you because you’d never guess that she’s something of a medical miracle.

(Photo: Alicia at home with some of her husband Rick’s guitars)

She shared that health story with us, and we’ll pass it along shortly, but first, let’s start at the beginning. Alicia grew up in Connecticut, a small town called Bethany, not far from New Haven. She went to high school in nearby Amity and then on to college in Providence at Rhode Island College. That college, known as RIC and pronounced “Rick,” was to play an outsized role in Alicia life. (I’m betting you can’t name RIC’s mascot, even with the help of the logo below.)
(That’s an “Anchorman.” Yeah.)

Alicia got a degree from RIC, majoring in Anthropology and Creative Writing, and it was there that Alicia fell for one of the staff members, Rick McCormick – falling into his arms on just her second week at school. She laughed at the recollection, saying, “I mistook him for someone else and I threw my arms around him. He remembers it that I kissed him. But, either way, I had a crush on him the whole time.”

Even so, it took years until they began dating when, as Alicia told us, “I asked him out,” adding, “He’s seventeen years older, so I wasn’t exactly on his radar.” (She remembers where they went on that first date: to see the movie “The Addams Family.”

(In the photo, that’s Gomez with the hand known as Thing.)

They eventually decided to marry, but Alicia wanted to graduate and get a job, reasoning, “I didn’t want to go from being supported by my father to being supported by my husband.”

(Photo: Rick and Alicia on a honeymoon cruise)

Nevertheless, Alicia ended up as a stay-at-home mom, caring for their two children. That prompted an “identity crisis” which propelled her back to school for two more degrees, one in English and one in Secondary Education. From there, she became a high school English teacher in suburban Providence where the family settled into what Alicia describes as “a hobby farm, with horses and pigs and chickens.”

Theirs was an idyllic family life, right? Father and mother with solid jobs, a son and a daughter, all living on a farm with the horses and the barnyard animal friends. Too good to be true?

At just age 38, Alicia was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. That began 8+ years of treatments, mostly with the cancer that had spread to her liver – where it recurred five times. (Alicia explained that the liver can regenerate, so the surgeons would remove the cancer but somehow it kept coming back.)

She fought hard and fought long as she tried to keep herself and her career going. She had kind words for her colleagues at the high school who allowed her to keep teaching when she could, and she got creative, having the Science class meet with her surgeon and inviting writers to come to their family farm to meet with students. Still, Alicia couldn’t keep going. The school eventually suggested that she take a medical retirement and she recalls that the physician assigned by the school system to approve a medical retirement was impressed by how upbeat she seemed for someone with terminal cancer. Terminal. And she knew it.

Then came a call from her doctor. Here’s what happened, in Alicia’s words:

“At that point, I was actively dying. I was 98 pounds. My doctor called and said that there was a doctor visiting from California and he’d been talking about a new treatment they’d experimented with, using dogs. I volunteered. No insurance was going to cover it, of course, so I basically had to donate my body to science before I died. But I figured I would rather die on the table than have my kids watch me waste away.” 

(Photo: Alicia with son Jake and daughter Libby)

The idea behind the new treatment was, as Alicia explained, that while the surgeons kept cutting the cancer out of her liver, that perhaps it (the cancer) endured by hiding in a vein, and there were only two veins involved with the liver, one in and one out. So the surgeons replaced those veins and… it worked. That was six years ago and no recurrence.

(Photos below: Alicia with Rick during her recovery.)

Reflecting back on her long health journey, her thoughts turned to husband Rick and she offered this moving assessment of his role in that journey:

“The patient has all the support. I had a marvelous team of people helping me — Reiki healing and massages and a coach – and all I had to do was get better. Meanwhile, my husband’s job was to go to work, and take care of the family, and take care of the farm that I had wanted, and to prepare for my death while pretending to me that he wasn’t preparing for my death. I had all the support while he sat there completely ignored in the waiting room.”

Now, looking back, Alicia wonders if that stress wasn’t the cause of subsequent health problems for Rick – he’s been dealing with fibromyalgia which started not long after her difficult years and he’s now undergoing his own treatment for cancer.

It’s Alicia’s turn to support Rick, and that plays a part in how the couple came to The Resort. She explained:

“After Rick retired, we became fulltime RVers. We were in Texas and an old friend from Rhode Island told us to come visit her in Arizona. She said, ‘It’s right next door to Texas.’ Well, it wasn’t next door, of course, but we came to visit her at The Resort for a ten day stay. Then we extended it. And when it came time to leave, we said, ‘We’re buying a place.’” Yes, there it is – that old Resort magic.

It’s been four years that Alicia and Rick have been at The Resort. The desert worked some magic of its own, as the weather meant a dramatic turnaround for Rick – the fibromyalgia that had been limiting his mobility all but disappeared, as Alicia described it, “Rick was barely able to function when we got here and now he’s hiking and doing lapidary.”

Meanwhile, Alicia has found plenty of outlets at The Resort for her energy – she’s playing pickleball and teaching one of the water aerobics classes and has taken on the task of putting out schedules of things to do at the park in the off-season.

And, let’s close with one last picture, my favorite. That’s Alicia with her service dog, Daisy, on a trip to the beach on the day she retired. Two great smiles.