Punta Gorda, Florida, is a special place to James. Often, the 64-year-old Plaistow, NH native and his family would head down to an RV campground during the winter to relax. To James, there was hardly anything better than riding six miles on his bike every morning in Punta Gorda.
Unfortunately, James hasn’t been able to head down to Florida as much as he used to. In September 2020, James went to his doctor for his yearly MRI scan of his abdomen region—having done it since a cyst was found on his pancreas in 2015. James’ scans showed no concern for the previous five years. Until this time, the scans showed something that would change his life.
“After they did the MRI, the doctor told me, ‘I hate to tell you this, but there’s a spot on your left lung, and it’s likely cancer,’” James said. “I was shocked.”
A biopsy of James’ lung confirmed that he had cancerous spots, and he was soon officially diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. James and his family quickly met with several doctors and oncology centers all around New England to figure out where would be best for him to receive treatment. Ultimately, James decided on the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA.
James began making the drive from New Hampshire to Dana-Farber biweekly for his first treatment plan of three sessions of both immunotherapy and chemotherapy. After completing those three rounds with only mild side effects, James underwent surgery to remove the infected parts of his lung—hoping that would halt the cancer in its tracks.
In early 2021, James returned to Dana-Farber for follow-up scans to see how he was healing. The results showed the opposite, as James’ cancer had not only come back but was now in his lymph nodes and making its way to his iliac. James’ care plan now became six months of biweekly immunotherapy and clinical trials that took a toll on him.
“When I started the trial, the medicine was very strong,” said James. “I didn’t feel good, and my face got all swelled up, and also my arms and legs. I felt like I was in a fog all day when I was on it.”
James and his family soon felt the financial impact a cancer journey could bring. Having already retired, James received a fixed income from his Social Security disability benefits, and his family was now facing difficult choices. Do they keep paying for James’ treatment or buy the nutrition he needs and the bills to pay his car insurance?
“We lived on a very low budget,” James said. “The co-payments became a bit overwhelming because that $20 or $50 really makes a difference. It became bothersome since it would take me away from concentrating on treatment.”
James went to his social worker at Dana-Farber to share his financial worries and see if organizations could help. The social worker explained how the Joe Andruzzi Foundation (JAF) assists cancer patients in removing financial barriers to treatment and applied to JAF for him.
The social worker’s application was quickly processed at the Foundation. Within weeks, James was a grant recipient for JAF’s Household Expenses and a gift card to Market Basket to buy the nutrition he needed.
When James got the letter from JAF in his mailbox that help was coming, he was moved to tears.
“It brought so much joy,” James said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there are really people out there that care.’ It just gave me hope. I literally cried.”
Currently, James is on another clinical trial and is still journeying down to Dana-Farber. While he knows there will always be roadblocks on his journey, he’s keeping a positive mindset—even walking daily to stay active. Thanks to JAF, James can walk onward, knowing he and his family aren’t alone.
“I’m so glad the Foundation has been there for me,” said James. “When you get that help, you feel you’re not going through this journey alone. I’m so thankful to JAF.”