It started with one cup of coffee. Dan Dewey’s dad, Edgar Dewey, sat in a chair with tubes pumping chemotherapy into his veins in the cancer treatment center of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac. His son was with him, as always.
But one Thursday morning in 2007, he told his son he’d like a cup of coffee. Before Dan Dewey left for the Starbucks down the street, they asked other patients in the room whether they’d like a cup, too. “He’s treating. I’ve got his wallet, and the nurse is holding him down,” Dewey recalled saying at the time. One cup became several. And now, Dewey’s weekly order consists of 20 or more drinks, depending on how many patients are at the cancer center when he arrives. He is there every Thursday morning, even though his dad died in 2008.
“We love Dan,” said oncology nurse and unit manager Kathy Courtney. “He’s here rain or shine; blizzard or tornado. No matter what’s going on out there, we know at 10 o’clock, he’s going to be here. We have some patients who schedule their treatments when they know he’s going to be here.” And it’s not just the java that has the staff and patients looking forward to his visits. It’s Dewey, the Orion Township man who jokes with the patients and their caregivers and teases the staff. “He just lights up the room,” Courtney said. “He’s an inspiration to all of us.”
At 10 a.m. every Thursday Dan heads out for his weekly stop. By about 10:30 a.m., he’s at the Starbucks down the street. Everyone knows to expect him: the staff and patients at the hospital, as well as the folks at Starbucks, where workers have come to fill Dewey’s orders so efficiently, they rarely get complaints from customers anymore. But every now and then, someone wonders why that guy in white shorts and a gray sweatshirt is holding up the line buying so many cups of lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, strawberry smoothies, and, oh yeah, somebody wanted hot chocolate. But the regulars know. And when the complainers find out, well, they fall silent. And some of them put money down to help cover the costs.
Dewey buys the coffee for cancer patients every Thursday because his dad, Edgar Dewey, told him to. His dad had cancer, but the cancer didn’t kill him. He conquered cancer twice. Dewey swears he died of a broken heart, just a few months after the passing of his wife of 62 years, Mary Jane Dandison Dewey. He simply lost the will to fight a third bout with cancer after his high school sweetheart died. But the sweet essence of his heart lives on in Dan’s Coffee Run.
Dan Dewey, 65, a retired educational broadcasting operator for Birmingham Public Schools, used to pay for the drinks, averaging about $50 a trip, out of his own pocket before a Starbucks staffer stepped in. One of the baristas, Valerie Edgington, 46, of Waterford, decided last year to create a special debit-like card through which people can donate money for coffee runs. People can put money on the card in person at the Starbucks on Woodward at Square Lake Road in Bloomfield Hills or via www.danscoffeerun.net or a Facebook page she set up. She also made T-shirts that sell for $20 and stickers ($5) to help spread the word and encourage contributions. “He never asked for anything special,” Edgington said. “He just came in every Thursday ordering all these different drinks. Finally, I asked him what he was doing, and I wanted to help.”
Oncologist Rajan Krishnan, the doctor who treated Dewey’s dad, said the visits remind him of times gone by in his native India, when people stopped by simply to share a cup of tea or coffee. Doing so showed people they mattered. Krishnan’s mom in India misses those days; she recently lamented their loss in a telephone conversation with her doctor-son. “She said no one just stops by to drink tea. They stop by to get my blood pressure, to check the electricity meter. But no one just stops by to share a cup of tea or coffee,” he recalled her saying. “Sharing a beverage is a way to say I care about you. And that’s what Dan’s visit reminds me of.”
Sharon Donley, 68, of Port Huron was at the center getting treatment for a recurrence of ovarian cancer. She remembers Dewey from when she was treated in the past and was pleased to see he’s still making his weekly rounds at the unit. “He just brings a smile to your face,” Donley said. “It’s such a wonderful thing to do for the patients. He brings you coffee, and he makes you laugh. It’s such a wonderful thing to know that there’s someone who doesn’t even know you who cares. It makes a difference because when you’re here, you’re always a little nervous. And then you have this pleasant familiar experience.” Patients such as Mechelle Burdette, 45, of Eastpointe appreciate that. “It’s so special it brings tears to your eyes,” Burdette said of the coffee visits. “This is so sweet. It really picks you up. It gives you to the strength to make it through, just knowing the kind of people who are out there. It warms your heart.”