Raising Awareness — and Hope
Sandy Cassanelli says she has a number of initiatives going on this October when it comes to breast cancer, raising awareness of this disease — and raising money to fight it.
That list includes sales of pink breast-cancer-awareness masks, donations from the proceeds of sales of certain items at her business to support research for a cure, staging a virtual road race and raffle, and a host of other events.
But for her, breast-cancer awareness isn’t a one-month, once-a-year matter.
“My family always says that, unfortunately, every day is breast-cancer awareness day in our house,” said Cassanelli, who is battling stage-4 breast cancer and is, at present, involved in a new clinical trial of a treatment she says is showing promise, at least when it comes to her own condition.
“In September, when I had scans, we found out that the medicine I was taking since January had stopped working and that my cancer was growing,” she explained. “After many tests and many visits to Dana-Farber, we decided that I would enroll in an immunotherapy clinical trial.
“I’ve been going to Boston every other week for infusions,” she went on. “I’m doing well, and I have minimal side effects, but it is challenging going to Boston every other week by yourself. Usually, my gut is generally right about my treatments and whether they’re working or not, and I have a really good feeling that this is working.”
Cassanelli’s long battle against breast cancer, which began when she was diagnosed four years ago, has certainly become a high-profile fight being waged on a number of fronts. There is her own personal encounter, which has seen a number of twists and turns, ups and downs, as most do. There’s also her efforts to promote awareness of the disease and raise funds for research — with both initiatives carried out through the Breast Friends Fund, which, to date, has raised more than $550,000 in its first five years, with a goal of topping $600,000 during this pivotal month.
These various efforts, and especially her own courageous and very inspiring fight against this still-deadly disease, earned Cassanelli the prestigious Difference Makers Award earlier this year from HCN’s sister publication, BusinessWest. In a recent article that reintroduced award winners for 2020 — they were chosen in February, but not honored as a group until September because of restrictions imposed by the pandemic — Cassanelli reflected on how the virus has made her battle even more challenging.
Indeed, she talked about having to go to medical appointments alone because of COVID-forced restrictions at hospitals. And about having to balance work, home responsibilities, and a cancer battle at the same time. And even about how her work has become more challenging in these trying times — she and her husband, Craig, own and manage Greeno Supply, which supplies many of the products that were, and in some cases still are, in short supply because of the pandemic, like disinfectant, paper towels, and toilet paper.
These challenges haven’t subsided in October, a month set aside for events locally and nationally to promote breast-cancer awareness. But Cassanelli is finding the time and energy to tackle all those initiatives mentioned earlier.
“Usually, my gut is generally right about my treatments and whether they’re working or not, and I have a really good feeling that this is working.”
“I’m in the midst of my crazy month,” she explained. “We’re doing a lot of virtual events, like raffles, and people are ordering masks, our company is running 20% off certain items for the whole month of October that we’re giving back to the charity … we are very, very busy this month.”
For this issue, HCN talked at length with Cassanelli about her ongoing fight — and her ongoing efforts to help prevent others from having to wage a similar battle.
In the Pink
As she began waging her fight against breast cancer, Cassanelli knew she wanted to create a fundraising vehicle for research — one where the money would actually go for that purpose.
Indeed, she said many of the efforts to generate revenue for breast-cancer awareness and research efforts wind up spending a large percentage of the money raised on overhead and other expenses instead.
The Breast Friends Fund is different.
“My family and I started the fund when we realized that most breast-cancer organizations donate about 7% of the money raised to finding an actual cure,” she explained. “The rest goes to advertising, high salaries, early-detection campaigns … which are all great, but we really need a cure.”
To say the fund has attracted a large number of supporting individuals and businesses would be an understatement. Evidence of this can be found in the lengthy list of companies staging events to raise money for the fund:
• 2 Hopewell Restaurant is donating $1 for every ‘pink ribbon’ martini it sells during the month of October;
• New Steps Dance & Fitness Center staged an event called Eat and Shop for a Cure on Oct. 4;
• One-Stop Spirit Shop donated 10% of its sales on Oct. 3 from those who mentioned that they were purchasing for the Breast Friends Fund;
• The Glastonbury Dance Center held a Pretty in Pink Week to raise awareness and money for the fund;
• Hannoush Jewelers donated two prizes for a month-long raffle, with tickets selling for $10 each, or three for $25;
• Danielle Marie Photography is donating a portion of its gift print sales during the month to the fund;
• There’s also the Molly’s Metastatic Miles for the Cure Run, a virtual race being staged in honor of Molly Anderson, who recently lost her battle against breast cancer.
The list goes on … and on.
And all these efforts are needed, Cassanelli said, because the fight for a cure, while encouraging on many levels, is ongoing, and it will be a long fight — in many respects like the one waged by those with breast cancer.
As she told BusinessWest just a few weeks ago, the pandemic has made such battles even more difficult, for several reasons.
For starters, because of their condition, cancer patients have to be extraordinarily careful about not exposing themselves to the virus. “There was the realization that this virus could kill me,” she told the magazine, noting that, for obvious reasons, she began working at home back in March. “And my husband, Craig, had to be careful to make sure he wasn’t bringing anything home to me; he would take off his clothes in the garage and run up to the shower every day. He jokes that I would spray Lysol on him before I would let him in the house.”
Meanwhile, as she started that new treatment regimen and underwent tests and biopsies, the protocols were much different, and she would now have to go to most all of her medical appointments alone.
“And it’s very difficult to travel to Boston every other week by yourself,” she told HCN, adding that this is just another way in which the pandemic has simply added to the long list of challenges that she and others in her shoes are facing as the pandemic drones on, with no relief in sight.
For those fighting the fight, Cassanelli had these words of encouragement:
“Don’t give up! They have new treatments every day — the scientists are working really hard. Keep your faith, keep your strength. You can get through it. There is going to be a cure — I firmly believe that. We just have to keep fighting forward until they find that cure.”
As for the rest of us, she said we should take our cue from the Cassanelli household and understand that, while there is a month set aside for directing attention to this disease, every month, every day, should be about breast-cancer awareness and research.