PEPPERELL — Hundreds of local friends and neighbors will be helping the Recco family bask in a glimpse of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
On Jan. 5, the Reccos are holding a benefit for their youngest son, 18-year-old Joe, who a month ago, was pronounced cancer-free after months of treatment.
The event will be at 7 p.m. at the VFW in Pepperell; tickets will be sold at the door for $10. So far, well over 400 tickets have been sold. The proceeds of party will help pay for Joe’s medical bills, but more than anything it’s to celebrate a huge step in his road to recovery.
“This is more of a celebration to show Joe support and love,” said Joe’s mother, Taryn.
The idea began with Joe’s cousins in Lowell, but since then, said Taryn, the community has jumped on the bandwagon. Several members of the community have also donated a huge variety of items to be auctioned off, from gift baskets to Celtics and Red Sox tickets to a signed Wes Welker shirt.
“The outpouring from the community has been wonderful,” said Taryn.
It’s been a harrowing year for the Reccos. A couple of months after graduating from North Middlesex Regional High School, Joe had begun complaining of muscle aches and back pain. After taking him for blood tests at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Nashua, N.H., Joe’s pediatrician called Taryn, asking her if he could pay a house call to discuss the results. It was at that moment, said Taryn, that the family knew the news wasn’t good. On July 23, Joe was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 90 percent of his body. The diagnosis came as a shock.
“The most shocking thing was that Joseph has never been sick a day in his life,” said Taryn. “He’d never broken a bone, he’d never had a fever. He’d never been to the hospital. There was nothing beforehand.”
Joe’s white blood cell count was so low that the pediatrician advised the family to take him to the hospital immediately.
“It was 9 p.m. I grabbed my purse and we left right then,” said Taryn.
Joe spent the next five and a half weeks in the hospital undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments before being allowed to come home on Aug. 27 for a three-week interim before the next phase of treatment, although he and Taryn were still attending daily appointments. Doctors were hopeful that the second round would destroy the remaining cancer.
“It was a clinical trial and there was a 95 percent chance that it would (send him into remission), but unfortunately he fell in that 5 percent,” said Taryn.
But Joe’s positive attitude never faltered.
“He’s had a good attitude. He’s amazing,” said Taryn. “A lot of his friends have told him they wouldn’t be able to handle it as well as he has.”
After four weeks of an even more aggressive round of treatment protocol, Joe was allowed to come home for Thanksgiving, and was declared cancer-free on Dec. 4. Meanwhile, the community rallied. Neighbors delivered baked goods. The Boy Scouts provided the family with gas cards and organized a meal train to provide food three times a week.
Joe’s journey is not quite over. Because of the stubbornness with which Joe’s cancer remained prior to his third round of treatment, the family is hoping to ensure there are no future reoccurrence of leukemia with a bone marrow transplant on Jan. 29.
“Basically they’ll take his immune system out of him and put somebody else’s back in him,” said Joe’s father Michael. “Leukemia is very tricky. Where they had to treat it three times, we don’t know if will come back so the best way to counteract it just to put another person’s immune system in him.”
Joe will remain in the hospital for about a month. For the next several months, Joe will be remaining in the house as his immune system builds back up, with very limited visitors. Meanwhile, the house will need to be scrubbed and steamed to remove the threat of any germs. After 90 days, he will be able to go outside for fresh air, but not to any public facilities. When he does go out, said Michael, he will have to wear gloves and a face mask. By July, doctors are hopeful that he will be able to mingle with more people. By next January, Joe is hoping to attend Syracuse University in the film program, where the school is saving his spot after his acceptance prior to his diagnosis.
From Joe’s diagnosis until now, the medical bills have been astronomical — nearly $700,000 according to Michael.
“That’s what is cost to treat cancer,” he said. “We have insurance but there are a lot of things it doesn’t cover.”
And this isn’t the first time the Reccos have had to confront the situation. Several years, their older son Matthew was diagnosed with fourth stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I was basically looking for a cemetery plot for him,” said Michael with tears in his voice.
Matthew, now 27, has been cancer free for two and a half years and is pursuing a career as a singer.
Right now, the family is taking one day at a time, although Michael said, “You jump at anything.”
The family gains enormous support from the community and from their church, Our Lady of Grace.
“Pepperell knows how to give a big hug,” said Michael. “I tell everyone ‘You’re lucky you live here. You live in Oz and you don’t need ruby slippers.'”