Health


Widow Aligning With Biden On Cancer Efforts, Launching Foundation

Published: April 27, 2019 at 07:00 am

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While countless Americans and supporters line up behind former Vice President Joe Biden for his political capital, Newtown’s Bridget Sclafani is hoping to align with now presidential candidate Biden over his efforts to research and discover cures for cancer.

In particular, Ms Sclafani has set out to partner with the Biden Cancer Initiative, an offshoot of his Cancer Moonshot mission to assist families struggling with glioblastoma (GBM), an insidious brain cancer that took the life of her beloved husband, Paul, late last year as well as Mr Biden’s son, Beau, in 2015.

According to the Mayo Clinic, glioblastoma is an aggressive type of cancer that can cause worsening headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures; can be very difficult to treat; and up to now, has been virtually impossible to cure.

Since Paul Sclafani’s diagnosis in 2012, and up to when he lost his lengthy battle last September, Bridget and her daughters, Brianna and Morgan, never gave up.

“At age 44, Paul was diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma,” Ms Sclafani told The Newtown Bee. “He was operated on within days of the diagnosis, and we got that gut punch advice to get his affairs in order, as he was only expected to have six months to live.”

Early on, however, the family sought other opinions and learned his life might be extended for as much as five years through treatments.

“So through 35 rounds of radiation, 18 months of oral chemotherapy, aggressive clinical trials, Paul was able to survive for six years — not six months,” Ms Sclafani said. “But by last May, we were told there was no further hope to affect the tumor. So we decided to leave it in God’s hands and chose to stop any further treatments.”

All along the journey, Ms Sclafani said “we had wonderful people who helped carry us through, from prayer groups at St Rose [of Lima Parish], the kids’ teachers, a huge network of Paul’s former lacrosse player friends and coaches, and more friends and neighbors than I could count from here in Newtown and western Connecticut, where Paul was well-known as a lacrosse coach.”

Along with manageable travel, when he could, and having visits with numerous friends and lacrosse devotees, including his former college coach, Paul worked to remain positive — even when he started losing the ability to communicate. Ms Sclafani said that was when she began to detect behaviors in some people that seemed to stigmatize her husband.

At the same time, she also faced uncertainty about what treatments and support services would be covered by insurance, and having to fight with insurers over services she believed were covered, but that were denied or not fully compensated.

“I swore to myself then that I would do whatever I could to be sure no other family would have to go through that terror, discomfort, and embarrassment,” she said. So even before Paul passed away, his devoted wife began envisioning a foundation that would assist others who found themselves in a similar position.

An Inspiring Letter

Early in 2018, Ms Sclafani reached out through her brother-in-law, John, to Vice President Biden, who had been charged by then President Barack Obama with his Cancer Moonshot mission following the 2015 death of the vice president’s son, Beau. And much to her delight, last June, a letter arrived for Paul from Mr Biden.

“It’s a subject that is personal to me,” Mr Biden wrote, “and it pains me to know that cancer is personal for you and your family as well.”

Mr Biden went on to discuss the “silver lining” of research that was showing more success than ever before in moving toward a cure to GBM, adding, “we are closer to an effective treatment than we have ever been.”

He said his Cancer Moonshot mission hoped to capitalize on the success of research “to unleash new discoveries and breakthroughs for GBM and other deadly diseases.” And he touted the results, a Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel at the National Cancer Institute, which identified priority research that held the most promise for additional investment.

Mr Biden also touted the $1.8 billion earmarked for Cancer Moonshot priorities in the 21st Century Cures Act.

“Now, through the Biden Cancer Initiative, I look forward to working with you... to build on this progress by injecting a sense of urgency and changing the way we do business in cancer research, development, and care... from prevention to survivorship,” the vice president wrote.

Following Paul’s passing, Ms Sclafani found comfort and a renewed energy to memorialize her husband’s brave fight, while establishing a way to help others who faced similar situations, all while simultaneously raising a portion of proceeds that could underwrite ongoing research.

Building A Foundation

The first effort of the newly established Paul Sclafani Memorial Foundation will be rooted in one of his greatest passions, lacrosse.

As Ms Sclafani explains in a draft mission statement: “Paul’s passion for lacrosse was most evident when he shared his love of the sport with the hundreds of kids he coached over the last two decades in Wilton, Ridgefield, and Newtown.

“While Paul loved the game, one of his life goals was summarized beautifully when he shared a favorite quote, ‘One hundred years from now...the world will be a better place because I was important in the life of a child,’” the statement continued.

“It is our hope that Paul’s legacy will continue as the foundation provides support to families who are dealing with the myriad obstacles associated with brain cancer, including advocacy assistance to patients and families, to ensure patients receive the best quality of life possible and are treated with dignity and respect,” the statement concludes.

To that end, the foundation’s inaugural event will be held May 11, during Brain Cancer Awareness Month. It will be a multi-game lacrosse activity at Newtown High School that Ms Sclafani believes will include a number of players who benefited from Paul’s years of youth coaching in the region.

“We’ll have a chance to introduce the foundation, talk a little about brain cancer and research efforts, and how we hope to advocate for those going through similar diagnoses,” she said.

The foundation will also be introduced during a Newtown Youth Lacrosse activity June 1 at Treadwell Park and will be doing some fund and awareness-raising.

Ms Sclafani is additionally planning a July event to “spread joy to pediatric cancer patients” and a fundraising gala September 12 at The Ridgefield Playhouse featuring Grammy-winning Christian artist Laura Story and singer Kevin Briody.

She is also planning a “Legends Lacrosse Clinic” for October and is in the process of recruiting notable NCAA players and coaches to participate.

With Biden’s announcement of his run for President, Ms Sclafani is unsure whether she will be able to communicate with him directly to confer about her plans and possible partnership, but she has committed to trying.

“He was charged with finding ways to eliminate this disease with his Cancer Moonshot, and I am on a parallel mission to try and help others with the same kinds of challenges his and my family and many others have faced,” she said. “I have to believe that he will offer us support, as he invited us to partner with him on his Cancer Initiative.”

Anyone interested is learning more about the Paul Sclafani Memorial Foundation can contact Bridget Sclafani via e-mail at owulax@charter.net or reach out to her and her volunteers at one of the foundation’s upcoming events.

 

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