Guest blog post by Drew Fureno

This One is for You – Candle in the Wind

Fort Plain, NY —- My name is Drew Fureno and I am a rising Junior at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. I grew up in a small town called Fort Plain, located in upstate New York. I was a four-sport athlete in High School, starting with Varsity Baseball when I was in 8th grade. My family and I were first introduced to cancer first hand in the winter of 2011. I met Jack in the fall of my Freshman year (2017) at Le Moyne when we both arrived on campus. I knew a little about his background with cancer, but nowhere near to the length as I do now. Through conversation and sharing stories about our respective experiences with dealing with cancer in our lives, Jack and I have become close friends and I have been given the pleasure of getting to know his wonderful family as well over the past year and a half at Le Moyne.

Cancer is a disease that tests individuals of their mental and physical strength, as well as their level of resiliency. Whether it is the individual that was diagnosed with the disease, or the family surrounding the individual, everyone’s strength and resiliency is tested. In addition to the continuous research in the Cancer World for new remedies for the various types of cancer, other areas need to be focused on as well. This is where On My Team 16 comes into play. When cancer strikes, every day is a gift and the little things such as the sun being out or a good song playing on the radio is more appreciated than ever. The focus and motivation of OMT16 is to add an additional source of happiness and comfort to the minors that have cancer, but for their families as well. One quote that I believe fits promptly in this regard is “If you make just one person smile every day, that is a lot of people over the course of a lifetime”. Anytime OMT16 is involved, the end product is children and their families smiling. Cancer is a horrid disease that naturally coincides with pain, discomfort, and emotions ranging from aggravation to anger. OMT16 matches those negative effects with positive ones of their own.

When I was in 7th grade, my Mom, Shannon Fureno was diagnosed with Stage IV (4) Glioblastoma Brain Cancer at the age of 40. At the time, she was an Elementary School Teacher, along with my Dad, John at Fort Plain Elementary. The specific type of brain cancer that she was diagnosed with happened to be the most aggressive of the types of Brain Cancer. This diagnosis happened within just a week of my brother being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She was rushed into emergency surgery where they attempted to remove as much of the tumors as they could, but some were too deep to extract. My family and I bought white winter hats and wore them to see her so she would not be embarrassed to wear the big white bandage from the surgery. Needless to say, that week in late January was unforgiving.

Although my Mom refused to learn about the statistical chances of surviving and the possibility of one day being in remission, I did some research on my own and found out that the prognosis or chance of her surviving beyond 6 months was approximately 5% and the prognosis of surviving an upwards of 12 months was a staggering 1%. As a 12-year old kid, reading this takes quite the toll on you. Moving forward, I made sure I was to enjoy the little things such as appreciating sunny days and singing along to a song I was fond of. My Mom became the center of my life and from that day forward, I would put her needs and desires before I ever addressed my own. My mindset was that she took care of me when I was a newborn and a toddler, so it was my turn to take care of her when she needed to be taken care of. Since the certain type of cancer she became victim to would not go away, the best case scenario was the tumors remained dormant on her brain. Our family motto soon became “No news is good news”, meaning after a doctor’s appointment if there was no new activity in regards to the tumors on her brain, that was a good thing, if there was, that was never something that would have a positive result. Not only did she surpass the six-month checkpoint, but she long surpassed the twelve-month checkpoint as well. During this time, Baseball was my escape; it was the place where I could let all my worries go by the wayside and nothing in the world would bother me. Baseball saved my life. Shifting gears back to my Mom’s story – close to 48 months after diagnosis, the doctors introduced her to a new type of radiation that was in the development stages still, but there was a possibility that it could help reduce the size of the tumors. One of the side effects was a loss of vision, but no cases were documented of this happening. After going through this type of radiation for several months, my Mom noticed a severe loss of vision and ultimately became legally blind.

Before going completely blind, my Dad, who had been legally separated from my Mom for about 5 years at this point, would drive half an hour to pick my Mom, my younger brother Brady, and I up for school every day since no one could drive legally anymore. He would bring us back home after school and would do this daily for quite some time. Finally, my Mom’s Father, Steve bought her a two-family apartment across the street from my Dad’s home in Canajoharie, NY. This way, going to school would be easier and we could see both parents much more frequently. The only catch was we moved into the new apartment only two days before my Mom went completely blind; she had no idea the internal structure of the house.

My brother and I strategically aligned carpets on the floor that led from the front door to the living room, her bedroom, and the bathroom. We placed singular letters on each door in which represented each room. For example, a door that had “S” on it stood for Shannon’s Room, while a “B” stood for bathroom, and etc. This all helped significantly, but her eyesight never did come back. She was stubborn to allow others to take care of her, but we insisted it was the safest thing for her, and it helped our peace of mind, as well. For daily exercise, I would take my Mom on walks down the road while playing 80’s music and her biggest idol, Elton John to test her long-term memory, which stood strong throughout this whole time. We also bought a stationary bike for her to get her exercise on days that it was raining out. This was our daily lives, with the addition of making three meals a day, laundry, preparing her pills, and picking out her clothing for the next day, along with several other daily chores that she would need to be done for her. Keep in mind, my brother is battling Type 1 diabetes and is only 10 years old at this time and I am 13.

While there were good days and not so good days, in February of 2015, things began to spiral downhill, and fast. The tumors began to grow and therefore, compromising her motor skills and causing excruciating pain in her head. After spending some time in the hospital, we decided hospice was the best place for her. She stayed there for 6 days, and so did we. Finally, on Friday, March 20th, 2015, my brother and I decided to go home to take a break from it all and we made the executive decision we were not coming back. This would be the last time we would see our Mom. The person laying in the hospice bed was NOT the beautiful women we grew up knowing. Only about an hour after leaving, her Dad called us with the news that she had passed.

Everyone who knew Shannon told us that she waited for us to leave before passing on because she was protecting us; that is just who she was. She finished her battle on that Friday and now living her eternal life until we meet again. Shannon passed away at the age of 44 and two weeks after my 16th birthday.

Baseball helped me get to Le Moyne, along with the motivation to continue her legacy of excellence in the classroom. I am the man I am today because of the person she insisted that I should be. I could not have asked for a better set of parents, between Shannon and John to raise my brother Brady and myself.

Everything happens for a reason.

I am using what I have gained from going through this hardship in my life to my advantage and to offer any source of help to those going through something of the same nature. When Jack told me about OMT16, it was a perfect opportunity for me to put a smile on the faces of these kids that were literally fighting for their lives. My message to them and to their families is this: You are not fighting this battle alone. You are surrounded by a countless number of people, myself included that will help you in any way possible. Do not give up, do not ever give up! Take it one day at a time. On My Team and my own perspective align in the fact that both of our end goals are to make someone smile. Seeing someone smile who is going through one of, if not, the hardest time of their life is worth more than what words can justify. The stories to be told through OMT 16 and seeing the results that they produce truly warms the heart and it lets them know that it is going to be alright.

RIP ANGEL 5/6/70 – 3/20/15