Robert’s life, in his words, has been ‘quite the trip.’ The now 66-year-old native from Holden, Maine, was a United States Marine and worked as a commercial trucker—hauling cargo across the country. In May 2017, Robert was two years away from retirement, eager to get off the road and relax.
In his line of work, Robert spent long days and countless hours on the road, filled with quick pitstops and bathroom breaks. Then one day, at one of those frequent breaks, Robert noticed something very wrong. He found an alarming amount of blood in his urine.
“I’ve been told a warning sign is seeing bits of blood in it. That wasn’t the case for me,” Robert said. “It was completely red. So that was my clear sign that made me think, ‘I got to go have this checked out now.’
Robert went to a local hospital to speak with a urologist. He underwent an exam to determine the cause of his pain and subsequent bleeding. Ultimately, the urologist gave Robert the difficult news that he had Stage IV bladder cancer.
“He came in and told me what they found and that I had six months to live,” said Robert. “It was just a bad experience that day for me.”
The days after hearing his diagnosis were difficult for Robert. He spent a lot of time wondering how he could have such an advanced stage cancer and coming to terms with the ‘mental shock’ of the news. Two weeks later, Robert underwent surgery to remove his bladder.
Soon after, he began receiving both chemotherapy and radiation treatment at Northern Light Cancer Care bi-weekly. While the beginning months of care weren’t as difficult on Robert, the treatment soon evolved into a taxing experience for him, both physically and mentally.
“It’s hard to describe all the places your mind goes when you’re sitting there going through radiation,” Robert said. “You’re thinking about how there’s something inside your body that’s multiplying and eating away at you. You feel like you’re losing control of your life sometimes.”
Amid treatment, the doctors scanned Robert to discover the cancer had also spread to his prostate—leading to yet another surgery to remove it. What was supposed to be a six-hour surgery became 12 hours, as the impact of Robert’s radiation treatment on his body made it difficult for the surgeons.
Due to his diagnosis and treatment, Robert gradually started losing aspects of his bodily functions. Additionally, he became unable to work—significantly impacting Robert financially. When his truck started having problems, Robert had no other choice but to walk almost an hour to receive care a handful of times.
With low funds to address his truck issues and insufficient food, Robert felt he was running out of options. Knowing his hardships then, Robert’s care team applied to the Joe Andruzzi Foundation (JAF). Help was soon on the way for him.
With the financial assistance and Food Security grants he received from the Foundation, Robert could pay to fix the cylinder on his truck and buy the nutrition he needed at Hannaford. JAF’s Food Security Assistance provides grocery store gift cards to patients based on family size. These cards give patients the ability and access to purchase nutritional foods needed to stay well during treatment.
“It was so crucial,” Robert said when talking about getting his grant from JAF in the mail. “It just makes every difference in the world when people put out their hand to say we’re here to help.”
Despite initially hearing he had six months and then two years to live, Robert has beaten the odds and is still here nearly six years later. Robert has a long road ahead with treatment, but with support from people like his church group, care team, and JAF, Robert isn’t alone on his cancer journey. All of us at JAF are cheering on Robert as he looks to accomplish yet another milestone and pay it forward to others.
“I’ve been beating the odds so far, so there must be a reason why I’m still here,” said Robert. “Whatever time I have, I want to go out there and help others in any way I can.”