It’s funny. Even now, I don’t believe it. Because for most of us, cancer happens to other people. Until it doesn’t.
Fred and I quickly came to believe that his Mass General oncology team was one of the finest in America.
My husband, Frederick O’Flavius Young – Freddy to all of us who know and love him – was not supposed to get cancer. Fred was born on St. Paddy’s day, 1960, to an Irish mother and Scottish father in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The 8th of 14 children, Fred called himself, “The oldest of the younger half.”
He was the guy who came to his siblings’ aid when asked or not. He would carry his younger brother – whose broken leg was set in a heavy plaster cast – down the stairs or lend a buck or two to his little sisters for an after school ice cream cone.
Fred fell down, of course (and broke a few bones during childhood) but he always got up and dusted himself off. He had things to do. He was intuitive about people’s needs and was always there, especially for me, our daughter Sarah, his sibs, nieces, nephews, friends and his colleagues.
A Wily Mutation
Fred was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in May of 2012. He had BRAF V600E, a wily mutation of that cancer for which the prognosis is particularly poor regardless of the therapeutic intervention. While there has been great success in treating BRAF mutations in melanoma, the code has not been cracked for colorectal cancer.
But we had some things going in our favor. It was Fred’s and our extreme good luck that he had just been hired at BNY Mellon, in Boston, as managing director of sales for investment management. Vicary Graham, president of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, was engaged and supportive from the start. As soon as Fred’s cancer was discovered, she referred him to the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.
Fred and I quickly came to believe that his Mass General oncology team was one of the finest in America. It included researcher and medical oncologist Eunice Kwak, MD, PhD and Theodore (Ted) Hong, MD, director of Gastrointestinal Radiation Oncology and co-director of the Tucker Gosnell Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers. Other esteemed team members were oncologist Aparna Parikh, MD; nurse practitioner Caroline Kuhlman, NP; and nurse practitioner Lorraine Drapek, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCNP.
Relief and Hope
I remember the relief and hope we felt the first time we walked through the door at Mass General. The hospital bursts with energy and purpose: from the reception in the main lobby to the folks at the coffee counter, to the waiting room of radiation oncology and chemotherapy. All whom we met and worked with were kind, smart (dare I say brilliant?), and dedicated to the best care and treatment.
Over and over, he responded to each new challenge with the same words: “Let’s get her done!”
Because of countless examples of expertise and compassion, Fred and I knew we could entrust his life and care into the hands of our dream team. For us and our families, the Mass General campus became our second home. There were blood tests, CAT scans, infusions, radiation, surgeries, targeted therapies – cutting edge stuff.
Fred spent five years in treatment. Others might have given up, but that was not Fred. Over and over, he responded to each new challenge with the same words: “Let’s get her done!”
And “get her done” we did. Thanks to Fred’s determination and our oncology team’s unrelenting efforts, my husband survived longer than most with his particular mutation. Fred not only lived. He thrived. He continued to work full-time at the job he loved. During those years, his sales team made it to number one, and the camaraderie they shared was deep and abiding.
Drawn Closer by Challenges
Fred and I were together for nearly 40 years and married for 33. While we were close before his diagnosis, the challenges we faced and decisions we made – which finally included home hospice – drew us closer. Because of his brave spirit and positive attitude, he only became more beautiful to me.
In June, 2017, two months before Fred died, he stood witness at our daughter Sarah’s wedding to our son-in-law, John. In a room full of peonies from our garden and those of friends, he danced with her to “Pennies from Heaven.”
Fred and I always believed in our Mass General team and its research. And we believed – and I still do – that one day there will be targeted therapies to manage his type of cancer.
Keeping More Patients Alive
For that to happen, his Mass General team, under the direction of Dr. Ted Hong, needs philanthropic support to advance their research.
With that goal in mind, in September 2017 and in Fred’s honor, I donated the first $1,000 to the launch the Freddy Fund. We have raised $80,000 on our way to a goal of $100,000. These crucial funds will allow Dr. Hong’s team to invest in expensive equipment, combination therapies and new trials. It will help them keep more patients like Fred alive.
Please help us by donating to the Freddy Fund. No amount is too small. Every dollar counts. Because cancer only happens to other people, until it happens to you or someone you love. And every day we have with our loved ones is precious. Fred and I were lucky in that way. We were given extra years. And one day, with research and new trials, there will be a cure.
To learn more about how you can support cancer research at Mass General, please contact us.