Linda and Bill Hawkins.
‘You’ve got to give it your all’

William “Bill” Hawkins III of Greenville is no stranger to challenges.

“I didn’t make teams I wanted to make. I’ve lost games when I was on teams. I didn’t always get the job I applied for. Sometimes I did.

“Things don’t always work out the way we plan. Life isn’t easy. You have disappointments, but you have to get back up,” he says.

Then he quotes a line from a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier: “Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.”

In December of 2017, however, he got some unexpected news about his health that would test his fortitude and all of his powers of resilience.

“I went for my annual physical. I wasn’t feeling any symptoms, didn’t expect any dramatic news,” he recalls.

However, the blood test for prostate-specific antigen, commonly known as PSA, was elevated. His doctor flagged the result and sent Bill to a urologist, setting in motion the kind of medical odyssey that any man dreads.

A biopsy of his prostate gland was scheduled immediately. “Every snip they took was full of cancer,” he divulges. It proved to be an aggressive type, so much so that his doctor moved up the date of surgery a month.

Hawkins, 57, says he always tries to approach life with determination. He believes that obstacles are to be faced and overcome, but suddenly he was confronted by a very frightening adversary.

As a former chairman of the Smithfield Democratic Town Committee, an experience that he says seems like it was an eternity ago, the longtime Smithfield resident has had plenty of practice marshaling his strengths, dealing with adversity, and attacking problems. However, nothing prepares someone for the disrupting impact of a diagnosis like the one he received.

To complicate matters even more, during the operation he lost two pints of blood while he was still on the table and ended up in the ICU. However, with treatment, he rallied and inside of five days was back home. Then it was four months of healing and physical therapy before he could return to work. He was out of the woods, but found himself entering a strange new world.

When Bill first learned of the diagnosis he had turned to family and old friends who rallied to him. His wife Linda Octeau Hawkins and the seven children in their blended family, along with Bill’s siblings and their families, have been very supportive.

“I’m glad I had the surgery, but it’s life-changing,” he says. “You can’t go back to who you were.

“A lot of it is mental. The biggest obstacle is the thought process. It’s not easy to deal with. I worry about it. I try not to, but sometimes I do lose sleep thinking about it. It’s surreal.”

A workers’ compensation fraud investigator for the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, Hawkins, a Providence College grad with an MPA from URI, began his career doing constituent affairs for former Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Joseph DeAngelis. He also served as assistant commissioner on the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Council, and in the private sector he has also worked in the investment industry.

Always athletic, he coached youth sports and routinely took part in events like the 150-mile Multiple Sclerosis bike challenge and 5K races for different causes. These days he and his wife walk, and he endeavors to stay active, but he says he still gets tired.

“It’s a couple’s disease,” he notes. “The impact of this condition hits both the person who has it and his spouse. My wife has been through this by my side.”

Hawkins tells how she immediately made certain he was on a health-enhancing diet, one that featured things like turkey burgers, veggie burgers, smoothies, and kale chips.

“All the healthy stuff,” he chuckles.

He confides that they talk a lot about their hopes for the future. “It’s been wonderful,” he says of the blended family they share. Their two youngest children are still at home. Hannah is finishing her sophomore year at Smithfield High School, and Billy is finishing grade 8 at Gallagher Middle School. “All seven of them are wonderful hard-working kids,” he declares. The couple also have two grandchildren, Gia, age 2, and Ruby, 3 months.

When he first got the news that he had prostate cancer, he mentions that he and Linda asked each other “What are we going to do? We want to see our grandchildren grow up and grow old together.” They decided to take the attitude, “you’ve got to give it your all.”

His most recent PSA test was very encouraging. It registered zero, but Hawkins points out “it can come back at any time. You have to accept whatever challenge that comes and think clearly.”

To take a proactive stance once he was on his feet, one of the first things he did was start a fundraiser on Facebook for prostate cancer research.

“I set a modest goal of $200. The response was very good. So, I raised it a couple of more times.” The effort eventually brought in close to $2,000, a response he finds very gratifying.

He believes that it is affirming to take positive measures by addressing the illness beyond the scope of his personal battle. That’s why he agreed to be interviewed and tell about his experiences.

“The moral of the story is to get your annual physical. It’s amazing what a little blood test can do. If I’d let that cancer sit there, it would have killed me in six months.”

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Bottom Lines

Where do we begin: The use of terms like “fake news” and the manipulation of media that facilitate their spread can pretty certainly be traced to the 1930s. A chapter from the history book “These Truths” by Harvard professor Jill Lepore makes a convincing case for their origins in a fifty page chapter called “A Constitution of the Air.” Radio, the first mass media platform in the world, much like social media today, became a means of reaching people directly, and there arose an entire industry of opinion-molders and publicity flacks, some more trustworthy than others, who used it to spread their own views. If you have an hour to spend with a book and only read this chapter, IMHO it is well worth the time.