Before cancer touched members of his own family, Mark Mastrioanni participated in the Relay for Life through his work’s team just because it seemed like a worthy cause.
But then life threw a few curveballs his way. His mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away 12 years ago. A couple years later, his father-in-law passed away from cancer.
Both went through chemotherapy and fought what Mastrioanni said was a one-sided battle.
In 2015, cancer became a personal battle. He was diagnosed with the early stages of testicular cancer. Watching his mother, father-in-law and family friends struggle and succumb to cancer left him with bad memories, but in his case, he considered himself lucky.
“We found something, I went for an operation and two weeks later I’m back at work. What did I survive? I didn’t feel any different or any worse,” he said.
A co-worker at the Northern Savings Credit Union was trying to get him to wear the survivor shirt and he gently turned down the offer, thinking it didn’t feel right.
But the cancer returned and moved into his abdomen. For the past three months he’s been off work, recovering from his second surgery. Going through the whole process, he experienced first hand what the cancer agency does.
He opted for the surgery, which would avoid the need for chemotherapy or radiation treatment. The surgical option he chose was due to advances in research by the cancer agency.
“I’ve seen my mom go through chemo. I saw my father-in-law go through chemo and a couple of friends, and it is horrendous. This surgery, because it’s so effective, is really difficult.”
Having a full surgical team, the surgeon, nurses and anesthesiologists, to save his life, he knew the medical care wasn’t cheap, giving him all the more reason to fundraise for this year’s relay.
The Sole Mates are in their inaugural year as a team, comprised of his wife, Gina’s, family and his extended family who have been affected by cancer, as well as friends from Oona River, including his friend who is battling cancer.
“I believe it’s important to them, they want to participate and show that support whether it’s monetary or coming together as a group and maybe in some way we’ll find some healing at a different level,” he said.
Despite all the instances of cancer around Mastroianni, he is trying to teach his two kids, Isaac and Jillian, that it’s not all that bad. Of course it’s not great, but there’s hope.
Last week, Mastroianni went back to work for the first time after his surgery. He’s taking baby steps in returning to the norm and making a conscious effort to simplify his life — to be more vigilant with his health.
Every three months he goes back to the hospital to get scanned. At his last scan, just over a week ago, he was clear of any risky spots. Although his journey wasn’t entirely smooth he still considers he had it easy compared to those around him diagnosed with cancer.
For this year’s Relay For Life he’s ready to wear the survivor shirt.