By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — In 1982, shortly after graduating from Laconia High School, when Derek Cote enlisted in the Marine Corps, his father doubted he would finish boot camp. "I was the honor Marine in Platoon 3004, the elite of my group, " said Cote. Now, more than three decades later, Cote finds himself battling cancer, one of some 250,000, including about 1,500 from New Hampshire, claiming they were sickened with various diseases during their tours of duty at Camp Lejeune, where the water supply was laced with toxins for 35 years.
In October 2014, Cote was diagnosed with multiple myleloma, a cancer of the plasma (white) blood cells, among 15 diseases an act of Congress, enacted in 2012, designated as qualifying veterans and their families living at he base between 1957 and 1987 for medical treatment. Three years later, the Veterans Administration acknowledged that there is sufficient evidence to compensate veterans stricken with eight diseases, including multiple myeloma, for their disabilities, but implementation of the program has been stalled. Cote said he submitted his information over a year ago, but has received only acknowledgement of its receipt.
While the Marine Corps and Veterans Administration have dragged their feet, Cote, while coping with what he calls "my cancer," has also mounted a campaign to spare others from the ravages of multiple myeloma. The year after he was diagnosed, his father, Armand, passed away from pancreatic cancer. "I always wanted to have a golf tournament for my father," he said. "I put it together in a couple of weeks." The AC/DC tournament, bearing the initials of father and son, was played amid spring weather last November and raised $10,000, which was split evenly for research for treating and curing pancreatic cancer and multiple myeloma. This year the tournament raised $25,000, all of which was donated to the Myeloma Institute of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Cote recalled that he was confined at home for 96 days following stem cell treatment and "I wanted to see what I could to help other people." He found that Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, had endowed the Myeloma Institute with sufficient funds for administration and operation so that all other contributions are applied exclusively to research. Cote said that the golf tournament will become an annual event and next year he expects to hold a second event fashioned after the WOW Ball. "I'd like to do something every six months," he said.
Meanwhile, Cote continues to wrestle with his cancer, which twice has nearly taken his life. He undergoes chemotherapy twice a week and takes medication daily. He said that the most common symptoms are nausea, stiffness and fatigue, but added the most serious is that "my cancer loves to eat bone, like termites." He explained that the cancer cells drill across the bone until it becomes brittle and breaks. While lifting weights, he said he felt a snap and subsequently discovered a rib had broken in 20 places. At the same time, he said that while his cancer is in his bloodstream, it has not reached his soft tissues and vital organs.
"I don't just lay around," Cote said, "and I don't do everything I'm supposed to do." His wife Tammy added that it's hard to be normal, but Derek does everything he can to live a normal life." Cote, who with his sons Craig and Chad builds custom homes, said "I feel guilty. The boys are doing the work and running the business." However, he remarked that whenever he can he finds time to join them, if only to look over their shoulders and take pride in their work.
"I'm not a victim," Cote insisted. "I'm not a martyr." He said that the doctors tell him that every year you live with myeloma you get two more, "but, I don't think about that." Instead, he said that God has given us the ability to learn and I only pray for one thing — to understand my lesson."
"He always tries to find the positive," his wife said. "Because it's there!" he declared.
Tammy and Derek Cote have raised $25,000 this year with a golf tournament to benefit the Myeloma Institute of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)
Derek Cote enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1982. He said he believes he got cancer thanks to the polluted water at Camp LeJeune, where he went through boot camp. (Courtesy photo)