Dan's Coffee Run: Bringing Joy to Cancer Patients Every Day

October 11, 2013

Each Wednesday, a cheery, energetic man in a sweatshirt and shorts — his self-chosen, year-round uniform — enters Rose Cancer Center at Beaumont Hospital. His feathery bright white hair and mustache contrast with his tan skin. It wisps backwards, flowing with his smile.

This Harry Dandison Dewey, is known at the hospital as "Dan."

Many in the busy waiting room, where over 100 enter for treatment each day, know him. They wave, say "Hi."

"You staying," Dewey asks a man with a cane in a wheelchair. "Yeah, hot chocolate," he responds.

Dewey, 67, doesn't have cancer. He's never been connected to a chemotherapy infusion machine, but he spends two days a week delivering coffee to the nurses, doctors patients and staff of three medical facilities, he says, just to put a smile on their faces, to brighten the potentially depressing atmosphere, to show appreciation.

It began when his father, who, after beating Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2002, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005 and began chemotherapy treatment at Pontiac's St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital in 2006.

"He gets in the big blue chair and I go, 'I'm going for a coffee,' and down the road a half a mile was Starbuck's," Dewey said Wednesday from his childhood home in Orion Township where he now lives. "I'll never forget, I stood up, and here's all these other people hooked to needles. So I go, 'Anybody want anything else? I'm going for coffee. I've got his wallet...' That was the attitude that took off, you know, here's this goofball willing to buy a total stranger a coffee."

The ritual continued through two 8-week chemo sessions. His father, Edgar Dewey, came home. The cancer was beaten.

"So I brought him home... I says, 'Well, everybody seems to really enjoy that; should I keep doing it," Dewey said. "And he's way smarter than me. He says, 'Yeah, go ahead,' so since January of 2007 I've been going to St. Joe's every Thursday for now seven years and only missed once." The one absence came on a Christmas Eve when Dewey was out of town visiting his sister.

Dewey became friends with the nurses, the coffee shop employees and the patients, who constantly change.

In 2011, news media and Starbuck's took notice and covered Dewey's story. At first, Dewey said he was reluctant of the attention, but others convinced him his story could potentially motivate others to good of their own.

Valerie Edgington, 48, who worked at the Starbuck's where Dewey shopped, became one of his biggest supporters. She started a Facebook page and posted a Starbuck's card and information about the cause in her store for people to donate.

With the help of the media attention and Edgington's efforts, Dan's Coffee Run, as it's now formally called, raised several thousand dollars. The program thrived; Dewey expanded.

Dewey spends nearly $200 and delivers more than 90 coffees per week between St. Joseph's Cancer Center, the Rose Cancer Center and CARE House of Oakland County, which advocates for abused children.

"The last two years have been great; the nice people all gave," Dewey says. "Now it's been two full years and I'm back on my own again."

For as positive, chatty and confident as Dewey is during his deliveries, it's hard to believe he goes days at a time "without talking to a soul."

Dewey runs seven miles a day around his 20-acre property, at the end stopping to check on his uncle, his neighbor, and sometimes make him a sandwich.

"It gets really quiet five days a week," Dewey says from his outdated kitchen, still decorated the way his parents kept it, the family pictures his mother hung still on the wall.

When Dewey's not devoting his energy to coffee delivery, He focuses on his animals. Goose poop is strewn along one side of his driveway amid piles of corn where he said 49 geese came to visit Wednesday.

He keeps two cats inside and feeds as many as a dozen others. They're all named "Bud," because anyone who names a cat "is crazy," Dewey says.

Cat food fills metal bowls in the breezeway between Dewey's house and garage. It's for cats, but that's not all.

"Every night... as soon as it gets dark, right here, there are 15 raccoon," he said. "It's a blanket... One of them stands on his hind legs and begs, so he gets a cookie.

"That's why I don't have any money; I'm the ultimate animal lover."

Dewey has lived life as a free spirit. He has no kids and never married, though he loved a Norwegian immigrant girl more than 30 years ago. It didn't work out.

"I considered myself a lifelong learner and still do," he said. "It was the genes they gave me, the cards they dealt me."

Throughout his adventures, summers spent working at Mackinac Island, two Boston Marathons and a cross-country run from the Santa Monica Pier in California to Charleston, South Carolina, Dewey always returned to his parents' land. He lived above the barn he built for his father one summer long ago to remain close to his mother and father.

Dewey said his father, Edgar Dewey, died in September of 2008. His mother, Mary Jane, died seven months prior.

"He just gave up because my mother was gone," Dewey said. "His last word was my mother's name." Two of Dewey's cars, his rusty 1980 Chevy Camaro with 230,000 miles and his little blue Chevy Cavalier with a 220,000-mile odometer reading and bad clutch are out of commission. He makes coffee deliveries in a shiny silver flex-fuel Chevy loaned to him by a friend.

dans coffee run Entering the bustling office, Dewey starts calling the staff members' names, Meghan, Melissa, Sue, Kelly. He stumbles with the names of a couple new employees. "There's one of the new mothers right there. How old now?" Dewey asks.

He squeezes a monkey key chain that emits a screeching and obnoxious mechanical attempt at a primate call and laughs, mostly because it's his ongoing gag meant to annoy the staff, which he says is usually successful.

"Lemon lime mixer," requests Dr. Igbal Boxwala. Others exchange brief formalities and relay orders for tea, lattes and the ever-popular "usual." Pumpkin spice latte is especially popular this day. "Straight up, baby," one nurse jokes. "You know how I like it."

Dewey nimbly scrawls orders on a fresh sheet of scrap paper. Numerous others are paper-clipped beneath. Dewey keeps the old sheets in case someone orders, "what I had last time."

Jane Chapman, a registered nurse, said some of Dewey's first-time customers are "a little leery" and hesitant to place an order, but quickly warm up to him.

"'l'll hear them out there, 'Does that nice man still come, he was here every week," she says. "Patients from the past, if they don't see him, they still remember him."

"That's really sweet," says 46-year-old Kathy Lightbody, an automotive marketing director for Crain's Communications from Grosse Pointe Park. She is a breast cancer patient who found a tumor in June. It's her third of six treatments, each taking three to six hours.

"I'm just amazed at what I see here," she said. "There's so much comradery here."

Dewey walks along the line of patients, skipping a sleeping woman whose husband's T-shirt says, "My wife's battle is my battle."

Orders are collected. Dewey and Edgington walk to the hospital Starbuck's, all the while serving one another playful insults.

The Starbuck's employees whip up the 28-drink order in less than 10 minutes. Some in the growing line are perplexed by the enormous order; others know the routine.

"That's awesome, God bless you" one unfamiliar woman says after hearing Dewey's explanation. Meanwhile, he and Edgington stack coffee trays on top of one another and walk precariously out of the food court, what Dewey calls "downtown Beaumont."

This isn't his only trip. Dewey says he'll make one or two more before calling it a day. Dewey returns to the center and doles coffees to gracious staff and patients.

"It's wonderful," says Christine Jarosz, a breast cancer patient from Sylvan Lake who said she's living "cat scan to cat scan." "It's not wonderful being here, but just this bit of brightness just helps all of us and we're grateful."

She smiles at Dewey.

"The smile is all I need to show up," Dewey says, causing her smile to widen. "See, right there. That's it. If I can count on that, forget the rest."

Good News Source: MLive.com | Photos: Tanya Moutzalias, MLive.com

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