Thomas Hickenbottom with wife Susan Allison (Photo by Chip Scheuer)
It's 10am and Thomas Hickenbottom, one of the founding fathers of Santa Cruz surfing, is showcasing lattices of berries and fruit trees laden with the summer’s bounty in the Eden he has helped to create around his Westside home. Breathing deeply, he presses the stoma that has replaced the vocal chords he lost to cancer and whispers excitedly about the fundraiser being held in his honor on Saturday, July 21.
“It’s going to be a great party, a real celebration of life. I’m so humbled at the love and support the community and my friends have shown,” says Hickenbottom, each word purposefully articulated.
The energy 64-year-old Hickenbottom seems to radiate has been valiantly won. He was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2007, and since then has undergone multiple surgeries, radiation and radio chemo at the VA hospital in Palo Alto.
“At one point, they were blasting my neck with radiation for hours at a time. It was one of the most frightening and painful experiences of my life,” says Hickenbottom. “And I was a medic during the war in Vietnam!”
Unfortunately, the cancer metastasized to his lungs. The future was looking bleak when, in a stroke of serendipity, his wife, Susan Allison, got a recommendation. The host of a health-based radio show, Allison was interviewing one of her medical guests when the person insisted they consider new, cutting-edge treatments being practiced by Dr. James Forsythe in Reno.
“I felt like the universe had intervened. We knew we had to give it a try,” says Allison.
Hickenbottom underwent three weeks of treatments with Forsythe. The treatments were tailored to his specific needs based on DNA analysis and concentrated on strengthening his depleted immune system by targeting deficiencies in his blood. There was also low-dose chemo and homeopathic therapies.
“It’s outstanding, the difference the treatments made,” Hickenbottom insists. “If they haven’t eradicated the cancer completely, they have at least vastly improved the length and quality of my life.”
The one drawback is the cost. Hickenbottom and his family paid tens of thousands of dollars for the treatments up front, and there’s the added maintenance of 30 pills a day, including oral chemo. He will also have to return to the clinic every three months for additional treatments.
In order to offset the costs of his battle, Hickenbottom, a fourth-generation Santa Cruz native, novelist and former pro surfer, decided to ask the community for help. The answer came back loud and clear.
“When I got the call from Tom, it was a no-brainer,” explains Kim Stoner, a friend of Hickenbottom’s since they were young. “He’s the kind of guy who you’d drop everything to help.” The former manager of the Cocoanut Grove, Stoner is a member of the 11-person committee of friends helping to plan the fundraiser.
Another member and longtime friend of “Hicko’s,” Paula Mahoney, puts it this way: “Tommy’s always been there for his friends and his community. He’s been a giver his whole life. Now everyone finally has a chance to give back.”
Legendary surf- and skateboard artist Jim Phillips designed the poster for the event in his iconic style. It includes a classic Bob Richardson photo of Hickenbottom in his pro surfing heyday and incorporates a stack of surf club and surfboard logos that Hickenbottom’s been involved with over the years. “I decided to add a cartoon of a stoked Tommy running to the beach with his famous ‘Candy Stripe’ surfboard, hoping to convey the ‘stoke’ that Tommy always radiates,” says Phillips. “To me, Tommy has always been the gentleman of surfing in Santa Cruz...whether sharing a wave or giving you the T-shirt off his back, I’ve always admired his evenness and good nature.”
Hula’s Island Grill, Café Brazil, Pono Hawaiian Grill and Gilda’s Restaurant are providing sumptuous fare, and guests will enjoy live music from local bands Ribsy’s Nickel, Jerry Best & Eddie James and Barbara Gerry & Ken Arconti. There’ll be live and silent auctions. If all goes well organizers hope to raise at least $40,000.
Hickenbottom can’t contain his excitement. “It’s going to be the event of the summer!”
He lowers his head with sincerity when he describes how humbled he is by the support he has received. “During this fight, there are times when I’ve been at my lowest,” he says, “But I’ve also gone through such an emotional awakening. Even though I may not be healthy physically, spiritually and mentally I’ve never felt better.”
Thomas Hickenbottom Fundraiser
The Grays’ Estate; call 831.854.7955 for info.
Direct donations welcome: www.giveforward.com/supporttommy