Story and Photo by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
Tom and Jody Fogarty said they had a great deal to process during their cancer experiences and after they had been declared cancer free.
Jody talked about the changes in her body after breast cancer surgery and how other people would see her.
“As a woman, I wonder. Can you tell? When I am wearing my shirt, can you tell that one is different than the other? When I go for exams, I am definitely nervous,” she said. “Scan anxiety is what they call it. That part is always nerve-wracking, but so far, so good. No evidence of disease still.”
Tom talked about his fears that he would lose his wife, as he had lost other family members to cancer.
“It was scary for both of us,” he said. “Without a doubt, the unknown was scary. We had only been married for two years at that point. We had just found each other. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God. Please don’t take her from me. Everyone in my life who had cancer passed away.’ ”
Additionally, there was the fear of the expense of treatment.
“I received a letter with a billing statement in it saying, ‘We’re not 100% sure we’re going to have approval for this test so, just to let you know, you’re responsible for the cost of the test,’ ” Tom said.
“It was a huge test. It was to determine if I needed chemo,” Jody added.
“We went on without knowing if it was approved or not,” Tom said. “We said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ If we have to pay for it, we have to pay for it. But we never heard about it again, and we think it was covered. You start seeing the medical bills, and it gets a little overwhelming. ‘Boy, I hope this is covered by insurance.’ You’re not talking hundreds. You’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.”
According to Jody, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center had employees who were able to help them navigate the financial aspect of cancer.
“We were concerned about the bills,” Tom said. “We contacted them. They walked Jody through it. We were much more at ease and thought this was going to be OK. We both thank God that we’re still here.”
Jody said the American Cancer Society also provided a great deal of support and assistance.
“We have had contact with Dylyn Harrison from the American Cancer Society, and she has been really helpful,” Jody said.
When Jody’s cousin, Holly, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, she had two small children. She told Jody, “ ‘I’m scared. I don’t know what to do.’ I said to Tom, ‘I need you to reach out to Dylyn. We need help. My family needs help.’ She gave us the phone number for the American Cancer Society hotline. It is for anyone to call. It’s 24 hours a day. They were amazing. We had questions about insurance, because she (Holly) didn’t have insurance. We had questions about things we could do to help their children. The hotline was fabulous. I think that was a resource that we really didn’t know was out there, too.”
When asked what she would tell someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer, Jody said, “Your support system is so important because the people who surround you really do lift you up. We had people bringing food. My parents would come up, and they would clean. We just had great people around us to help. And that makes it more manageable and less scary. There are enough people saying, ‘Don’t worry. We got you.’ Tom was my angel. He took such good care of me, and I am so thankful.”
Tom said, “I don’t really compare what I went through to what Jody went through. When I went through it, I thought, ‘I’m going to be OK.’ When I went through it with her, I was scared. I didn’t want to lose her. That was the hardest part for me. Whatever she wanted, I got for her. Whatever she needed, I did it for her. If she cried, I hugged her. I let her rest. I took care of the house and the kids.”
“Surround yourself with people who are going to help you, and I remember telling the doctors, ‘I am going to listen to whatever you tell me,’ ” Jody explained. “Whatever you tell me to do, I’m going to do. And that’s what I did. Anything they told me to do, I did. I felt like, I’m here at Roswell. I’m super lucky that this is in our backyard, that I am lucky enough to be a patient in a place as amazing as Roswell. The doctors were very positive and said, ‘You are here to be cured. There is no doubt in our minds that this is what we are going to be able to do for you.’ ”
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help or a shoulder to cry on or anything,” Tom said.
“It’s OK to ask a million questions,” Jody said, adding, “Try to stay positive.”
When asked how they felt about being chosen as Relay For Life’s 2023 Honorary Survivors, Tom said, “I think we’re both very honored.”
Jody mentioned both hope and loss: “I feel like it’s a huge honor. I’m very proud to have that. I hope that we represent it well. I am hoping that, as part of it, we can help more people. It’s unbelievable, just in our families, the number of people who have passed. There are so many in this area. I have an uncle and a grandpa and a cousin who all passed. There are others who fought the fight and are still with us.”
The American Cancer Society’s hotline is 1-800-227-2347. It is available 24/7. It provides information about rides to treatment, places to stay during treatment, hair loss and mastectomy products, clinical trials, support for caregivers, and much more.