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Cumberlands graduate student and cancer survivor is strong supporter of Relay for Life


WILLIAMSBURG, Ky.-Derrick Dopel is a survivor. Currently, Dopel, a 2010 graduate of University of the Cumberlands, with a double major in psychology and human services, is enrolled in the Master of Arts in Professional Counseling at Cumberlands, where he hopes to earn his degree at the end of 2012.

A few years ago, this would have seemed an impossible goal. As a Whitley County High School senior, Dopel began to develop headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of his fist. Following immediate surgery, he experienced a major stroke, which paralyzed his right side. After three major brain surgeries at UK that could not completely remove his tumor, Dopel was identified as a candidate for proton beam radiation therapy, a highly targeted procedure, which results in improved patient outcomes and fewer side effects. While most forms of treatment could just prolong life, proton beam therapy promised the possibility of his becoming cancer-free. However, there were few places that provided this level of treatment in 2003, so Dopel traveled to Boston, where he underwent several months of therapy at the Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center of Massachusetts Hospital.

The stepson of a retired U.S. Navy recruiter, Dopel and his family could stay nearby at Hanscom Air Force Base. However, many of the other patients, he met while in treatment did not have that luxury. One place they could stay was Hope Lodge, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Currently, there are 31 Hope Lodge locations throughout the United States, where accommodations and eligibility requirements may vary by location. Dopel saw how important this facility was for the patients at Mass General. For this reason and the fact that the ACS supports the kind of research that has helped him become a survivor, Dopel enjoys supporting the organization and its Relay for Life program.

Quick to give God the credit for his recovery, Dopel is an active member of Frankfort Baptist Church near Corbin. To honor and support him and his involvement with ACS, for Life, on April 5, at 7 p.m., the church is holding a benefit singing, featuring many popular gospel groups, for the Whitley County Relay for Life event.

Dopel made remarkable strides and has regained almost all the use of his right side as extensive physical therapy has helped him learn to walk and speak again. The only obvious effect he currently exhibits is the need for extremely strong glasses with prisms embedded, a result of the location of his tumor. He enrolled at Cumberlands in 2005 and has faced numerous challenges in completing his undergraduate work, and he relies upon Dragon Point & Speak software to help him type his papers. A big fan of street biking, Dopel’s next goal is to compete in a bicycle marathon. Considering how far he has come, that is simply another milestone on his way.

Located in Williamsburg, Ky., University of the Cumberlands is an institution of regional distinction, which currently offers four undergraduate degrees more than 40 major fields of study; nine pre-professional programs; seven graduate degrees, including a doctorate and six master’s degrees; certifications in education; and online programs.