It Takes a Village: Patient Recipient Back Enjoying Life Thanks to Family and JAF

Mark S.

In early March 2020, the thought of cancer was nowhere near Mark’s mind. The then-62-year-old Greenfield, MA, native enjoyed being active, working in the solar panel business, and cheering on his kids during youth sports. Then, he started feeling soreness in his abdominal area, which changed his life.

The soreness evolved into consistent pain, and Mark went to his local hospital to get checked. Initially, Mark thought he was dealing with pancreatitis again—having gone through it the year prior—and that’s what the doctors figured as well. Mark returned home with the medical staff telling him to rest and drink more fluids.

Five days passed, and Mark was feeling even more pain. He went back to the hospital, and this time, the doctors ran tests and scans of Mark’s abdomen. The results showed not only had Mark’s pancreas atrophied, but there were multiple cancer spots on it.

“I was shocked,” Mark said. “When they said it was cancer, I was freaking out in my head since I was thinking about my kids and my wife and being around for them.”

Mark was officially diagnosed with stage IIB pancreatic cancer. Fortunately, the tumor on Mark’s pancreas was the right size to operate on and was a successful procedure—but that was just the beginning of his cancer journey.

After he recovered from surgery, Mark began chemotherapy treatment at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, MA. For six months, Mark went in weekly for half a day to receive a variety of chemotherapy medications. It was a grueling time for Mark, as during that time, he lost close to 50 pounds during chemotherapy and developed neuropathy in his extremities.

“Chemo felt like a marathon,” said Mark. “You go through all the stages, and it wipes you out and you don’t feel yourself.”

One aspect of a cancer journey that is, at times, overlooked is the financial toll of treatment. The expensive cost of care can impact the day-to-day expenses of a cancer patient and their household.

In Mark’s case, he had to stop working during treatment, and his family became reliant on his wife’s income. Specific bills, such as their mortgage payments, caused a lot of worry in Mark’s household.

“It was hard,” Mark said. “We had support from family and friends, but the money part was stressful for us. It was a lot on my wife while I was putting one foot in front of the other during chemo.”

Mark mentioned these concerns to his social worker at Cooley Dickinson and how best to move forward. His social worker applied to the Joe Andruzzi Foundation (JAF) on Mark’s behalf—knowing JAF specializes in providing New England cancer patients financial assistance for everyday expenses.

The application came to JAF, and over the coming weeks, Mark was a grant recipient for the Foundation’s Household Expenses. That grant not only helped pay their monthly mortgage payment but also shrunk Mark’s family’s stress.

“It was huge,” said Mark. “It takes a village to support a cancer patient. When you’re feeling vulnerable and struggling, you need support from all angles, so the Foundation was a big help to us.”

Presently, Mark is cancer-free and is back enjoying life once more. On his last day of treatment, he got to ring the bell at the infusion wing and had a big party with friends and family to celebrate. It is a day Mark will remember for the rest of his life.

“It was amazing,” Mark said. “I had to go to bed early, but I kept the window open and could hear the music and laughter coming in. Family, friends, health professionals, the Foundation, everyone has been a big help.”

All of us at JAF are honored to have had the opportunity to help Mark and his family during a trying time. “

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