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Nov 15 2005 - Lesley University Gives AHH an award!
|Andrew's dream will live on: Uncle says Swenson organization will continue to benefit children|
By Kristen Bradley - Metro West Daily News
|HUDSON - When Andrew Swenson died Sunday of
leukemia at the age of 7, his uncle, John Sousa, said he had no idea how to set
up a memorial fund at the local bank in the family's name.
Yesterday, Sousa said, it's for reasons like that, and many others, that the organization in his late nephew's name will live on.
"Whatever I've done for Andrew, it's only fair to do it for other families and other children," Sousa said of Andrew's Helping Hands organization, started by Sousa and a Swenson family friend two years ago.
"It's been a touch and go situation because of Andrew's health. The organization's been in limbo ... it didn't feel right (to raise funds for other children) when here's a child in a medical crisis who needs me on an uncle level."
Yesterday, as Sousa prepared himself for Andrew's wake, he spoke openly about watching his sister, Zenaide, and her family suffer alongside Andrew through five years of illness. And while their emotional pain was prominent, what couldn't be hidden, Sousa said, was the constant financial burden that comes with caring for a sick child.
"(Andrew's parents) haven't worked a full week in the past five years," he said. "It's been a tough road, trying to keep this little guy alive. Every minute was worth it but it's been draining. I'm happy that we've put as much effort into this and we will continue to put effort toward other kids."
Sousa said after watching Andrew's parents take a second mortgage out on their home to pay for a bone marrow drive in November 2000, he knew something needed to be done to not only help his relatives but to help all families that are in a medical crisis.
Melanie Phillips of Natick, the organization's co-founder and a family friend, said to bear witness to such personal devastation motivated her to do something for the Swensons and others who may find themselves traveling a similar path.
"(The organization) grew out of watching Andrew's plight and the family's plight," Phillips said. "The choices come down to the health of your child or bankruptcy. A family should not have to go down a road of poverty to save the life of their child."
Sousa said the recent roller-coaster ride with Andrew's health has put the organization on hold, although it did receive its nonprofit status a few weeks ago. But the list of things left to do is long, he said, and includes picking a board of directors and getting a solid volunteer base that will work within local communities.
"I thought I had already learned about the organization and what the needs were because Andrew was alive," Sousa said. "But that's not as far as I had to go because it's not going to be just helping people through the bone marrow process anymore ... Now, it's going to be about (helping families) through a few other things that Andrew went through."
Setting up the memorial fund was the first thing that came to mind but in addition, Sousa said, families in crisis need to know where to go locally, in their own towns, for assistance.
"I thought Andrew would be right by my side," Sousa said of Andrew's own plans, even at a young age, to reach out to other sick kids and their families once he felt better. "He was looking forward to being a big, huge part of this organization and I was so excited to have this little guy right next to me. This is what he and I agreed on so I'm doing this on both our behalfs."
Phillips said that while there is much to be done to organize the organization, it started with a drive to help others - something that will remain even after Andrew is laid to rest this morning in St. Michael's Cemetery.
"All of us who know Andrew have seen (his) giving spirit," she said. "It's from that spirit that this organization was founded. Ideally, what we'd like to do is be able to have a child that's very, very sick like Andrew, in need of a bone marrow transplant and be able (to have the parents) take a leave from work and not worry about the bills."
With funds to be raised, Phillips said there is a lot of work ahead but insisted that Andrew's Helping Hands organization is here to stay.
"The organization won't die because Andrew did," she said. "I think if anything, people will work a little harder. We've been focused on Andrew and now we'll be focused on Andrew's dream."
Sousa said while he founded the organization with hopes of Andrew taking a lead role in its operation, he said yesterday that Andrew's death will change the organization's focus - but the name and the mission will remain.
"Its going to be better than ever before because now it's in Andrew's memory," Sousa said of the organization. "Andrew's memory is going to continue past my lifetime, past his brother's lifetime. It's something that's going to stay here long, long after any of us are gone. His memory will not fade ... I will not let his memory fade."
By Nicole Simmons - MetroWest Daily News
HUDSON - All Andrew Swenson wanted to do before he died was celebrate his 7th birthday with family and especially other children.
On Saturday, his friends ate birthday cake, played in the yard and stared wide-eyed at a juggler - all while Andrew watched from his bed wheeled over to the living room window in his Warner Street home.
Yesterday, with presents still waiting to be played with and the sounds of his friends' laughter still ringing in his ears, Andrew died at 2:38 p.m.
"He's in a better place," Andrew's father, John, his usually quiet voice a little quieter, said last night. "Pain's all gone."
Since Andrew was 2, he struggled to overcome acute lymphocytic leukemia. Andrew endured radiation, countless needle pricks, a bone marrow transplant and just about every side effect that can come with a transplant.
In the cruelest roller coaster ride, his little body rejected the new bone marrow, accepted it to the point of remission and, the family discovered a few weeks ago, rejected it again, mutating the cancer to a point where it was untreatable.
After what seemed like a successful round of treatment of the experimental drug Rituxan, Andrew lived it up the past six months. He got the dog he always wanted, Cinnamon Raisin Bagel, a beagle. He took the trip to Disney World. He attended school for a week, sitting in on a first-grade class at Farley.
Andrew even got to cross the finish line with his father at a Why Me? marathon in Bermuda. Why Me? is a Worcester-based charity that helps families with children who have cancer. John has run in the marathon three times and plans to do it again in January.
"I'll always run for Andrew ... " John said, his voice cracking before he broke into tears. "I hate running."
"The only thing he didn't get to do, he couldn't play street hockey or soccer," John said. Andrew's medicine had weakened his bones to the point where he needed a wheelchair the last few months.
Andrew had a few scares since January. He went into remission for a few months, John said, but worried the family when a few bouts of illness sent him to the hospital. He always came home with a clean bill of health, the doctors not finding any cancer.
That was until about a month ago, said Andrew's uncle, John Sousa, who Andrew called "Tio Joao," from their native Portuguese. Andrew wasn't feeling well so his mom, Zenaide, or Z, brought him to the hospital. This time, test results showed the cancer was back and had spread.
"It's everywhere," Sousa said.
"When it came back, it came back with a vengeance," John Swenson added.
Doctors gave Andrew three days, maybe a week to live.
"He's been holding on like a champ for his birthday," Sousa said.
Andrew had beaten the odds before, but the Swensons didn't know if Andrew could hold on any more, so they decided to have an early birthday party for him, a "Celebrate Andrew Day" party.
So a few weeks ago he invited family friends and neighborhood children to his house for a party. He was too weak to join them but he wanted the kids to have fun outside while he watched.
"He always wanted kids around," Sousa said.
"It wasn't about him," John Swenson added. "It was never about him. ... He was losing everything and he gave everything he could away."
Andrew made sure to do one thing for himself. Animal Adventure, a Bolton company which brings animals for children to play with, brought two ponies. That was it - Andrew had to go outside.
John said it was amazing. Although Andrew hadn't been out of bed for maybe a week, he insisted he go outside on the ponies. Andrew put on a vest which the Framingham motorcycle club Xtreme Riders gave him - he was their youngest member - hopped on a pony, took three rides around the yard, hopped on the second pony and took three more.
The weeks following the party were tough, John said. Andrew was in severe pain, pain that no medication could ease. He stopped eating and couldn't go to the bathroom. But he refused to go to the hospital. He wanted to be home. He knew he was dying.
"Don't ever die," Andrew told his mom a few days ago. "It hurts too much."
At first, John said, Andrew was scared. He hadn't ever dealt with death, didn't know anyone who had died, except a fish or two. He was afraid of bad men coming to get him or monsters eating him.
Andrew was always too sick to go to church, the building full of people equaling a building full of germs. But Andrew had a concept of God from his brother, Jonathan, 9, who went to Sunday school and his mother, who loved angels, filling their living room with angel trinkets before Andrew got sick.
This week, John said, Andrew stopped being afraid.
"That man says it'll be OK," Andrew said, looking up at the living room ceiling. "I can go with him."
But not until after his real birthday party, the one on his actual birthday, July 27. The kids came back. This time there was a juggler. Andrew couldn't go outside, but Z wheeled the hospital bed to the window looking out on Warner Street and Andrew watched as his friends laughed. He opened his presents, mostly Pokemon cards since he was a huge collector. He would need more binders, Sousa said, for his latest additions.
The next day, yesterday, Andrew knew he was dying, John said. He asked Z to move him out of the horrible hospital bed onto the couch. Then he called each family member - John, Zenaide, Jonathan, Tio Joao and Vavo, his grandmother, Cidalia Cavaco, who lives next door - one by one to his side and said his goodbyes.
"Mommy, I love you. I know you have done everything you can for me," Andrew whispered.
Then he pushed himself up, resisting John who tried to make him lay down, and propped himself so he could look out the window.
He looked out the same window that revealed the juggler and kids the day before, the ponies weeks before that. It's where he'd watched neighborhood children play, where Cinnamon and other dogs ran. Where, a long, long time ago, he played street hockey.
Then Andrew sat back down and closed his eyes. He was gone. Cinnamon came over and licked Andrew's face, the last family member to say goodbye.
Jonathan later turned to his dad and said, "I know what Andrew's going to do (in Heaven) first. He's going to play soccer."
Visiting hours will be tomorrow from 5 to 8 p.m. at Tighe Hamilton Funeral Home, 50 Central St., Hudson. The funeral will be held Wednesday at the funeral home with a Mass at St. Ann Church in Marlborough at 10 a.m. Burial will be at St. Michael Cemetery in Hudson.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Andrew's Helpful Hands organization which helps families struggling to deal with a critical illness while making ends meet - P.O. Box 751, Hudson, MA 01749. To help the Swenson family with medical and funeral costs (both parents have been out of work for more than a year), Sousa has established the Andrew Swenson Memorial Fund at Community National Bank, 17 Pope St., Hudson.
By Kristen Bradley - Metro West Daily News
Sunday, December 1, 2002
HUDSON - Just four months ago, they made a promise to their 7-year-old son as his casket was lowered into the ground. Despite months of grief and their first Thanksgiving without him, the Swensons are keeping their word.
"It's not easy," Andrew Swenson's mother Zenaide said. "There are days when all you do is cry. But you suck it up. We promised Andrew at his gravesite that nobody would forget his name. We're keeping him alive by helping others in his name."
Andrew's Helping Hands organization - a nonprofit organization started by Andrew's uncle when Zenaide and her husband, John, were so overloaded with medical bills they thought they'd have to declare bankruptcy - is holding a holiday reception in December for others going through similar struggles.
The "Gold Ribbon Holiday Reception" will be held Friday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m., at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Marlborough.
Andrew Swenson died July 28 after a five-year battle with acute lymphocytic leukemia.
For years, Andrew endured radiation, a bone marrow transplant, 92 pills a day and having a hospital become his second home. Through his tears and pain, there were days of hope. Following a bone marrow transplant, Andrew's body rejected the new marrow, later accepting it and he went into remission.
But just weeks before his seventh birthday and his death the next day, his family learned that the cancer was back and untreatable.
"We know the hell and no one should be there," Zenaide Swenson said.
"Nobody should have to go through that ... it just shouldn't happen," Andrew's father, John Swenson said.
But to help them find some way through their grief, the Swenson family, including Andrew's brother Jonathan, 9, are putting all their free time into planning the holiday fund-raiser.
All of the proceeds from the ticket sales will go directly to three families picked by the Swensons. All have a child sick with cancer, a youngster about to endure a bone marrow transplant just like Andrew.
"This process brings the kids to death's door," John Swenson said of the marrow transplant procedure. "Everybody knows how bad chemotherapy is. To prepare for the bone marrow transplant is worse."
John and Zenaide Swenson said when their son got sick, their attention was so focused on Andrew, bills piled up. At the same time the family was dishing out $1,300 in medical bills and paying for other family expenses, John Swenson was laid off.
"They needed the bills paid," Zenaide's brother John Sousa said of his sister and her family. "I was just watching my sister struggle and I needed to do something. Without the bills paid, they wouldn't have been able to come back to this house."
Zenaide Swenson said losing the family home would have been too traumatic for Andrew, his brother and her husband. Every day, she thinks of how lucky she is to have friends and relatives so willing to step up to the plate.
"You don't want to have to worry if your house is going to be there when you get home," she said. "You need to concentrate on what's important - your child and the hell he or she is going thorough. That's important."
In order to give back, the Swensons decided to hold the fund-raiser, donating the money to families in similar circumstances.
"Everyone we're helping, one thing we want people to know is that these people who are getting help are in dire straits," Zenaide Swenson said.
"There's just so many expenses, it's incredible," John Swenson said. "It's the little, little stuff."
There are many things other people don't think of until they're in the same boat, the Swensons said. Things like gas money to get to and from hospitals and money to park at those facilities, change for tollbooths, and cell phones that rack up bills quickly with family members calling other relatives to give them medical updates.
"That's what they need done because they have to be with their (child)," Zenaide Swenson said. "So they don't have to work" every day, she said.
When the evening of the event arrives, there will be buffet stations, dancing, music, door prizes, a cash bar and a silent auction.
"All that fun will help other families get through the worst hell," John Swenson said. "If you were one of these (families), wouldn't you want someone helping you?"
So far, more than 100 tickets have been sold but the Swensons are hoping to triple that in order to raise $15,000 for the three unidentified families in need.
Tickets are $65 per person or $50 for groups of two or more. The attire is semiformal.
"The reason it's semiformal is my Andrew loved to dress up," Zenaide Swenson said. "He would wear his tuxedo at birthday parties and he loved to have people around. That's what it's about ... everybody's going to dress up, look good and have fun because that's what Andrew was all about."
By Jennifer Kavanaugh - Metro West Daily
Saturday, May 25, 2002
HUDSON - Except that each sat on his trusty set of wheels, the man and the boy made for a mismatched pair as they posed together for pictures on the boy's driveway.
Blade, perched on his purple motorcycle, played the part of a typical biker: a black leather vest perforated with metal, skull-motif pins; tattoos on each arm and fingerless motorcycle gloves.
Andrew, who turns 7 in July, wore a Tigger polo shirt and a Mickey Mouse cap, a souvenir from his recent trip to Walt Disney World. His left leg in a brace, Andrew now needs a wheelchair.
As different as a skull and crossbones and Winnie the Pooh, the talkative biker and the shy boy now share a bond.
For more than four years, Andrew Swenson has been locked into a battle for his own life, fighting against the cancer that first invaded his body in 1997. And Blade, whose real name is Kevin Corey, hopes to bring some measure of relief to Andrew's family and others like his.
"To see any little guy suffer like this - we wanted to help out," said Blade, who has children of his own. "If we can give a family 15 minutes of not having to worry about anything but their kid, that is cool."
On June 2, the Framingham-based Xtreme Riders motorcycle club, of which Blade is the president, will stage a 15-town charity motorcycle run. The club hopes to attract 500 riders and raise $45,000 for Andrew's charitable organization and another charity that helps children with cancer, or like Andrew, children who are battling cancer treatment's terrible side effects.
For years, Andrew's health has been the Swenson family's primary worry. After his initial diagnosis with acute lymphotic leukemia in October 1997, Andrew had three years of treatment. For that, he got four months of remission, before developing testicular cancer. He had a bone marrow transplant on Nov. 30, 2000 - a date the Swensons now celebrate as Andrew's second birthday.
Andrew came home in March 2001 and had a relatively uneventful few months. But in November, said Andrew's father John Swenson, the cancer came back and doctors said Andrew had a week to live. Swenson said Andrew started taking an experimental drug. The drug seems to have worked, he said, because his son is still here.
"Andrew's condition is always a roller coaster," Swenson said, watching his son maneuver his new wheelchair around the driveway.
Since November, the Swensons have had four or five scares that the cancer had come back, but it didn't. Andrew started a karate class a little while ago, but then, just as quickly, had to stop.
The massive amounts of steroids Andrew had for his treatment are destroying the bones in his feet, meaning he can't put any weight on his legs. He already has one leg brace, and will soon get one for the other leg.
But Andrew still seems like a happy child, trying on the sunglasses Blade uses for riding, playing with his beagle Cinnamon Raisin Bagel and recalling favorite memories from his Florida trip. He liked swimming with dolphins and Winnie the Pooh's Honey Pot Ride.
"People come up to me and ask, 'How do you survive this?' " Swenson said. "But you have no choice."
Families coping with a traumatic illness often find themselves without the time or the energy to manage life's other demands. But the phone bills still have to be paid, the medical bills have to be handled, and the insurance forms seem endless. Neither Swenson nor his wife, Zenaide, have been able to work for more than a year.
Affected by what he was seeing, John Sousa, Zenaide's brother, started Andrew's Helpful Hands, a charity to raise money for the Swensons and other families. The charity got its legal nonprofit status a few weeks ago, Sousa said.
"We'll help families with bone marrow drives and and give them financial assistance to help them with what they're going through," Sousa said.
Last September, Sousa asked the Xtreme Riders about whether it would help organize a run with the Fraternal Order of Eagles, of which he is a member. The Xtreme Riders had done other charity runs, including one for its Sgt. At Arms, Charlie "Chopper" Cook, whose house had burned down.
So the different groups organized the June 2 event, which will help not only Andrew's Helpful Hands, but also Sherry's House, a home for families dealing with cancer that is being built in Worcester. Similar to the mission of the Ronald McDonald houses, Sherry's House will provide longer-term housing to families whose children are receiving cancer treatment at UMass in Worcester.
The June 2 event is a combination motorcycle run and family picnic, with tickets costing $20 a person. The three-hour motorcycle run starts in Framingham at 10 a.m., from the Cameron School at 215 Elm St. The route continues up Elm Street to Landham Road in Sudbury. The riders will then take Rte. 20 to Worcester, going through several towns, including Sudbury, Marlborough, Northborough and Shrewsbury.
In Worcester, the route takes the riders - who are welcome to come in cars and trucks, too - to Sherry's House's construction site, then eventually up to the Leominster Eagles headquarters on Litchfield Street. Starting at 1 p.m., the Eagles will host a party with food, games for children, prizes and entertainment.
Blade and Chopper, along with other members of the Xtreme Riders, said they have been obsessed with planning this for months. When police tried to help Chopper out of a recent accident with his bike, the first thing he thought to do was hand the officers a business card about the event. Whenever Blade sees bikers on the side of the road, he stops and gives them cards.
"If you talk to another biker and tell him you need his help, he'll cut off his arm to help you," Blade said. "That's pretty cool."
For more information about the Xtreme
Riders charity motorcycle run, go to www.xtremeriders.com. Donations can be sent
to the Xtreme Riders, c/o Leukemia Run tickets, P.O. Box 3435, Framingham, MA
Monday, July 29, 2002
HUDSON - Andrew J. Swenson, 7, of Hudson, died Sunday, July 28, 2002, at his home after a five-year battle with cancer.
Born in Framingham, he was the son of John and Zenaide (Sousa) Swenson.
Andrew was an avid sports fan and enjoyed soccer and hockey.
Besides his parents, he leaves a brother, Jonathan Swenson of Hudson; his grandmother, Cidalia Cavaco of Hudson; and aunts and uncles.
His funeral will be held Wednesday, July 31, from the Tighe Hamilton Funeral Home, 50 Central St. (on Rte. 62, Exit 26, off Rte. 495), Hudson, with a funeral Mass, at 10 a.m., at St. Ann Church, 466 Lincoln St., Marlborough.
Burial will take place at St. Michael Cemetery, Hudson.
Visiting hours will be Tuesday, July 30, from 5 to 8 p.m., at the funeral home.
Please omit flowers. Memorial donations may
be made to Andrew's Helpful Hands organization, P.O. Box 751, Hudson, MA 01749.
By Nicole Simmons - Metro West Daily News
Sunday, December 9, 2001
HUDSON - All 6-year-old Andrew Swenson has wanted for the past four years is a puppy, a trip to Disney World with his family and for doctors to tell him he's cured.
But that last wish, the biggest of them all, is now more out of reach than it ever has been before.
Despite a bone marrow transplant, endless sessions of chemotherapy and radiation and years of pain - both mental and physical - Andrew's leukemia is back, and this time, doctors aren't sure they can beat it.
All they can do is buy him more time - more time to play with his puppy, be with his family and enjoy life.
"This kid's incredible," Andrew's mom, Zenaide, said earlier this week from their home.
Andrew was first diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia on Oct. 1, 1997. Basically, he had cancer of the blood. His body produced too many white blood cells, which crowded out the cells that make red blood cells, impairing his ability to fight infection.
Three years of treatment put his body into remission for four months. In August 2000, however, he developed testicular cancer, which required a bone marrow transplant.
A drive in November brought almost 2,000 people to Hudson to see if they were matches. A match was found from a different drive and Andrew got his transplant Nov. 30, 2000. He celebrated his first "new birthday" last week.
Andrew's real birthday is July 27, but Zenaide suggested they celebrate the day he got his new bone marrow. After all, his blood type changed from B+ to A- after the transplant, so in a way, he was reborn.
The new bone marrow didn't come without complications. The marrow started to fight his body. He was unbearably itchy and developed stomach problems.
But Andrew's a trooper and pulled through. He came home this March. He had to return to the hospital a few times when he wasn't feeling well and went regularly for check-ups, but for the most part, he had a good summer.
Friends and family have slowly been able to come back into the house, which had been quarantined for Andrew's safety. He played outside in his yard. His face, which had ballooned because of the medication he was on, started to thin out until he looked like good old Andrew.
In October, doctors were even able to remove the line that was surgically implanted into his body so he could get his medication without being pricked all the time.
But not long thereafter, Zenaide noticed that one of Andrew's testicles was larger than normal. On Oct. 24, her worst fears were confirmed.
It was back.
Worse than hearing that from the doctor was telling Andrew.
"Mommy, I know," he told her quietly.
Andrew and his older brother, Jonathan, went trick-or-treating the next week, both dressed up as Harry Potter characters.
The next day, Andrew's line was put back in and he was admitted into the hospital for three weeks, sick with a fever.
"Things were pretty (bleak) and horrible," Zenaide said.
Because the leukemia returned so quickly after the bone marrow transplant, doctors told the Swensons the only thing they could do was try an experimental drug called Rituxan. The drug attaches itself to cancerous cells, suffocates and eliminates them.
"Anything we do is a time extension," Zenaide explained.
The treatment costs thousands of dollars, but the Swensons' insurance agreed to pay for it because it's considered treatment for a life-threatening disease.
Zenaide said Andrew is the first child to receive this treatment. She hopes it will be successful and doctors can start using it on other children.
"We've turned our doom and gloom into hope," she said. "Who knows. This is a kid. A kid who has fought for four years."
The last of Andrew's four treatment sessions will be in a couple of weeks. The Swensons won't waste any time - they're going to Disney World Jan. 7 and then to Bermuda where Andrew's father, John, is running in the Why Me? marathon.
Until then, Andrew will play with his puppy. Just like with the bone marrow drive, they had to find the perfect match when it came to finding a dog. It couldn't be too big, it had to be a certain age, have all its shots.
Andrew decided he wanted a beagle and he would call it Bagel. The perfect match they found at the Worcester Animal Rescue League already had a name - Cinnamon. Now they call her Cinnamon Bagel - another perfect match. Andrew usually sticks in a "Raisin" as a middle name. He loves raisin bran cereal for every meal.
"Sometimes she licks my ears and my eyes," he said of the puppy while eating his cereal lunch and nervously playing with a little gold ring he wears on his "wedding finger."
Zenaide said the puppy has made so much of a difference.
"I haven't heard my two boys laugh and giggle as much as they did that day (when we brought her home)," she said.
Even when Andrew doesn't feel good, he goes downstairs and plays with Cinnamon, she added.
When he's not playing with the puppy, Andrew likes to read. Before the transplant, all Andrew wanted to do was learn how to read. Zenaide tried to teach him and then worked with Hudson Public Schools to get a tutor to teach him.
"You should see how proud he is," she said. And he can add and subtract at a second-grade level, which is pretty impressive, Zenaide said, considering he's never been to school.
Right now, Andrew, Jonathan, Zenaide and John are just enjoying life.
"Every day is, 'Today's going to be a great day,' " Zenaide said. "You can't get sad."
By Nicole Simmons - Metro West Daily News
Monday, August 5, 2002
Every Monday for the past 14 months, I've told you the stories other people's jobs. This week I'd like to tell you a little about what my colleagues and I do.
I have often told people who ask, usually high schoolers trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives (as if you can decide when you're 18), that you should become a journalist if you can't decide what else to do, can talk to a complete stranger with ease and have some grasp of the English language.
That's because a journalist gets to experience a little bit of everybody else's jobs, especially in my case where I've spent a day once a week for a little more than a year on the job with others. Even without the Back to Work series, however, I've gotten a glimpse into so many people's lives.
I've written profiles of aspiring politicians, chatted with new business owners about how they started their shops, got lowered 100 feet under Marlborough to see what the MWRA workers have been doing down there. I drove a bus through an obstacle course for a radio promotion.
I was a substitute teacher for a day at an elementary school. I spent a morning releasing turtles with school students who had raised them for a year. I held the tiny hand of the first baby to be born in MetroWest in 2002.
I've been screamed at by developers convinced I had ruined their lives. I've stared into the blank eyes of an Alzheimer's patient while a nurse fed her. I've been hung up on by people who really didn't want to share their story.
Then again, I once got a message from former Gov. Paul Cellucci who left a number at the Watergate Hotel where I could reach him before he went to bed.
I think I've been pretty lucky to experience all of these things, and I've only been in the business for four years and only in this state. I work with people who have been all over the world who could share a much more impressive list of experiences.
Still, if I "got into business" like I thought I would in high school, I wouldn't have sat on a press platform and listened to Hillary Rodham Clinton speak in Pittsfield of the importance of preserving historical buildings. I wouldn't have grabbed Ted Kennedy before he unveiled the new Marlborough Hospital emergency department to ask him why he refused to debate his opponents. I wouldn't have grilled acting Gov. Jane Swift about MCAS obstacles while she toured Shrewsbury High.
Come to think of it, I certainly wouldn't have been mistaken on several occasions for Swift, mostly by elderly women ready to lay into her about misusing the helicopter.
Then again, if I had stayed at the photography studio where I worked through college or had decided to get into some other field, I would have been spared the heartache of talking to the mother of twin boys, both who committed suicide, one because the other had done it months before and he couldn't bear the loss.
I wouldn't have had to write about the blood-spotted snow I saw the day after an unlicensed, underage high school teen died in the Berkshires after she slammed into a tree because she was drunk. I wouldn't have seen the white blanket draped over the lifeless body in a car that crashed into a Natick bridge abutment just days after another carload of teens did the same.
Likewise, I wouldn't have had to see the look on my colleague's face recently after she learned that the Hopkinton parents heard their babies gasping for breath before they died.
"Jesus, I want to kill myself," she said flippantly, not really meaning it, but the news obviously penetrating beyond that hard journalist shell - that observer-only, objective, unfeeling shell we're supposed to wear like a shield.
I realized then, after she said that, that after a while, a journalist's shell can crack. The "cars into an abutment" stories begin to outweigh the "first baby of the year" stories. Sometimes people complain that there's only bad news in the paper. There isn't, those are just the ones you remember.
But try writing those bad news stories every day.
Spurred by the comment my colleague had made, I began to really think about what journalists take from their jobs, how over time we become desensitized and jaded.
Until something hits us hard. For my colleague, it was the Hopkinton story. For me, it was the recent death of Andrew Swenson, the 7-year-old Hudson boy who died a day after his birthday of acute lymphocytic leukemia.
I was asked only a few weeks after I started working here to write up a little something about a bone marrow drive the Swenson family was holding for their youngest child. That's when I met Zenaide and John Swenson, Andrew's parents, as well as his uncle, John Sousa. I learned their story. They were happy to share it if it meant people would come to the drive.
That story led to a follow-up. How successful was the drive? Then a story when Andrew found a match. Then one about the transplant. Then one a few months later to see how he was doing. Then a few more as his condition yo-yoed.
Then the bad news came. Andrew wasn't doing well. Doctors weren't sure what was to come. I wrote the story and vowed to remove myself because the inevitable seemed to be drawing near. I needed to prepare myself emotionally.
But Andrew got better. An experimental drug gave him six pretty good months. He went to Disney World and school, and played with his dog.
Last Sunday, I went out to eat with a friend who's also in the business of telling other's stories. I told him about the Hopkinton story, how it was affecting the reporter and anyone involved. The closest I'd come to cracking was that last story I'd written about Andrew when things looked bleak. I wonder how he's doing, I'd said, making a mental note to call the family that week.
Andrew had died an hour earlier.
The reporter on duty called a half-hour after I got home to tell me he received the obituary. I immediately shifted into "reporter" mode, sent my friend home and rushed to the office. John Sousa called me on my cell phone just as I was reaching for the phone to call him.
He told me the basics and put me in touch with Andrew's dad. As John Swenson poured his heart out, his emotions still raw since his angel had died only hours before, I cried quietly on the other end.
I tried to make myself stop and got mad when I couldn't. How unprofessional, I thought. How human, I thought again.
When I hung up the phone, I wiped away my tears and blew my nose. I thought about putting that journalist shell back on, thought it might help me clear my head and write a better story.
But some stories don't need a shell. They need to be told with feeling. That story would have been totally different if someone else wrote it, someone who hadn't experienced everything I had with that family before.
I got a lot of compliments on that story. I was proud to have written it and happy to have contributed to the family's healing. They thanked me when I hugged them at the wake.
It was the least I could do, I told them. After all, I was just doing my job.
By Kristen Bradley - Metro West Daily News
Thursday, August 1, 2002
MARLBOROUGH - The children's choir helped lift the sadness at Andrew Swenson's funeral Mass yesterday, as family members and friends gathered to say goodbye to the 7-year-old boy who died of leukemia.
"Andrew didn't get to make it many times to the children's Masses," the Rev. Mike Bercik said. "But there were certain songs he loved."
The comforting voices and the sound of children singing rang loud and clear through St. Ann's Church, while mourners wiped away tears.
Of 150 who came to the service, some embraced, while others sat quietly. Bercik reminded them that Andrew, who died Sunday at his home in Hudson, was looking down on his family and friends, understanding their pain but wishing their sorrow would subside.
"He's with God now. No more pain, no more sickness, no more hurting," Bercik said.
"If Andrew was here, he would want to celebrate this Mass with joy. Even though there were only a few years he spent here on Earth, he experienced so much. He was able to stand up and face adversity no matter what."
Bercik told stories about Andrew - his strength, courage and how he truly wanted to help others, although he spent five of his seven years sick.
One story included a tale of Andrew and an 11-year-old patient who could not swallow pills. Bercik said Andrew sat at the hospital and swallowed pill after pill, until the little girl forgot about her fears and learned to take her prescriptions.
"We see the love that poured out of this kid," Bercik said. "He lives on in each and every one of our hearts. Let us be thankful for the time that we knew him."
More than a dozen bikers from Xtreme Riders motorcycle club in Framingham showed up to remember Andrew. That included the club's president, Kevin Corey, referred to fondly by Andrew as "Blade."
"God handmade a perfect little boy and seven years later, he took him away," Blade said as he read from a poem he wrote Tuesday night. "I will miss him truly with every ounce of my heart."
Blade led a motorcycle procession yesterday to St. Michael's Cemetery in Hudson, where Andrew was buried. Blade also led a procession of bikes to Andrew's wake Tuesday night, where more than 500 people turned out.
At the conclusion of yesterday's service, Andrew's uncle, John Sousa, read from a poem he wrote.
"My little Jesus, your life filled with pain ... whoever you touched will never by the same," he said.
As Andrew's parents, John and Zenaide, and his 9-year-old brother, Jonathan, walked out of the church, everyone sang the words to "This Little Light of Mine," symbolically waving their index fingers in the air as kids often do during the children's Masses.
Bercik reminded everyone of what Zenaide has said over and over about Andrew since Sunday.
"The most precious things in life cannot be seen or even touched, they will only be felt with the heart."
by Christopher Cox - Metro West Daily News
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Last Saturday, Andrew Swenson of Hudson got the one gift he wanted: a party on his 7th birthday. It was the kind of bash a little boy dreams about, with a juggler, an animal show and countless packs of Pokemon cards.
His gifts were opened, but barely used. Sunday afternoon, after a 4 1/2-year battle with cancer, Andrew died peacefully at home.
``He was great through everything,'' his father, John, said yesterday. ``He went through it and kept on going.''
As they prepared for tomorrow's funeral, family members described a child with a selfless, indomitable spirit.
Though Andrew was diagnosed at age 2 with acute lymphocytic leukemia and would endure testicular cancer, a bone-marrow transplant, radiation, chemotherapy and countless transfusions, he never complained.
``He always thought of everyone else,'' said his mother, Zenaide. ``He always thought of me. It's why he hated the hospital bed, because he knew I wouldn't be comfortable.''
While hospitalized, Andrew would give his toys to other children. His parents, who left their jobs to care for him, always tried to turn the lengthy hospital stays into adventures for Andrew and his 9-year-old brother, Jonathan - even pitching a tent in his room.
``You just deal with it a day at a time,'' said John Swenson.
Andrew's maternal uncle, John Sousa, who lives next door, put his own career on hold to organize bone-marrow drives, fund-raisers and a charitable organization, Andrew's Helpful Hands (www.andrewshelpfulhands.org).
After a November 2000 bone-marrow transplant and a prolonged convalescence, Andrew's cancer went into remission. This year, the family visited Disney World and Bermuda. Andrew briefly attended first grade at the nearby Farley School.
Early in July, however, an exam revealed inoperable cancer. Not knowing if their son would live more than a few days, the Swensons threw Andrew an early birthday party July 13. The boy somehow mustered the strength to ride a pony around his front yard.
On Saturday, the real day, they reprised the party. By then, Andrew was so ill he had to watch the fun from a bed set up in the living room, where he called out the window to invite the guests inside for ice cream and cake.
``He couldn't eat anything at that point,'' his father said. ``But that's Andrew. He wanted it for everyone else.''
Donations may be made to Andrew's Helpful Hands organization, P.O. Box 751, Hudson, MA 01749, a non-profit that assists other families with bone-marrow transplant expenses.
By Cindy R. Dorsey - Metro West Daily News
Hudson - It is wrong. It is not supposed to happen this way. In the natural order of life, children are not supposed to die before their parents. So what if it happened to your family? What if your child was diagnosed with a terminal disease? And what if you lost your job and your family's health insurance while trying to save your child?
It happened to Zenaide and John Swenson when they joined their son Andrew in his brave five-year battle with cancer. Andrew lost that battle July 28, the day after his seventh birthday. Mourners poured into St. Ann's Church in Marlborough to remember young Andrew and console a weary, grief-stricken Swenson family.
Although devastated by their loss, the Swensons and their 9-year-old son, Jonathon, have not given up. The family made a grave-side pledge.
"We made a promise at our son's grave that his name would not be forgotten," Zenaide said. Three months after Andrew's funeral, she is keeping her word.
On Friday, Dec. 13, the Swenson family invites the community to the 2nd Annual Gold Ribbon Holiday Reception in Andrew's honor at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Marlborough. The event will benefit Andrew's Helpful Hands organization which is assisting three families who are currently facing the Swensons' ordeal.
The Swensons are appealing to the community of Marlborough and Hudson to open their hearts during the holiday season to help these families facing bone marrow transplants.
"We need to get everyone to come because the larger the attendance, the more assistance we can give the families whose children have gone through or are going through the bone marrow transplant process," Zenaide said.
"We need a minimum of 300 people to attend the celebration," said John Sousa, Andrew's uncle, who organized the first annual event.
The Embassy Suites Hotel and its General Manager Richard Tomanek are donating all facilities and services for the reception, optimistic that the Marlborough and Hudson community will fill the room.
"We challenge our community to get 500 people in the room," Tomanek said. "We all need to do our part, and we can do that in Andrew's name."
To draw in holiday revelers, the organization and hotel are offering the reception as an opportunity for smaller businesses to host their companies' holiday receptions, neighbors to host their neighborhood parties, or classmates to host reunions.
"For businesses, it is a ... [way] to make a tax-deductible donation and give their employees a holiday party," Tomanek said.
The Swenson family has faith that local residents and business owners will indeed want to make a difference, to help lighten the burden families endure when a child's health is threatened.
"The idea is not to let people get destitute," John Swenson said.
The holiday reception will be held from 7 p.m. to midnight Friday, Dec. 1. Tickets are $65 per person or $50 per person for groups of two or more. The evening will include eight buffet stations, dancing to music provided by disk jockey Bobby B, door prizes, silent auction, cash bar and more. Semiformal attire is required.
Private function rooms and suites also are available. Contributions are tax-deductible. For more information or tickets, call John or Zenaide Swenson at (508) 380-1797.
"Andrew always wanted to make people happy," Zenaide said. "What if we do that?"
By Carolyn Kessel / News Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2003
HUDSON -- When 500 bikers take to the streets in 10 days, their engines will be revving in honor of a boy so small he would've nearly disappeared in a leather jacket, a boy who never grew big enough to ride a motorcycle.
The Framingham-based Xtreme Riders motorcycle club has dedicated its June 1 charity run to Andrew Swenson of Hudson, who died last July of acute lymphotic leukemia at age 7.
"It's going to be a little bit hard this year," said Andrew's father, John Swenson. Last year, Andrew started off the Riders inaugural leukemia run. This year, he will be remembered in spirit.
The riders rearranged their route to pass by "Andrew's Land," as Andrew's family has dubbed his gravesite at St. Michael Cemetery.
"We're going to give him the rev salute because he loved the sound of it," said Kevin Corey, Andrew's closest friend in Xtreme Riders, who is also known as Blade.
The two met when Andrew was in remission, Blade said. "The second we met, I don't know, we just bonded," he said. "I love kids. I have a couple myself. I would hang out with him."
Because Andrew and Blade inhabited "different spectrums of the world," as Blade said, it made their friendship even more special.
"He loved the sound of bikes. He was a cool kid, definitely a cool kid."
The tiny boy became an honorary member of the Riders and will be treated as such.
"He was our youngest brother," Blade said. "We will always go by that cemetery, not only because he was a good friend, but because he was one of our fallen brothers."
The Xtreme Riders organized the event with Andrew's family to benefit families facing childhood cancer.
The two-and-a-half-hour scenic ride begins at 10 a.m. at Cameron School, 215 Elm St., Framingham. The ride will pass through 16 towns, including Sudbury, Hudson, Bolton, Clinton, West Boylston, Holden and Worcester, ending at the Leominster Eagles headquarters on Litchfield Street.
From noon until 6 p.m. a barbecue and party will be held at the Eagles headquarters, with music and entertainment for kids. There will be a moonwalk, face painting, relay races, cotton candy and an air slide as well as an all-you-can-eat barbecue and desserts.
Tickets are $20. Donations help fund Sherry's House in Worcester, where families receive free services and a place to stay, and Andrew's Helpful Hands organization Inc., which helps families pay bills while their children are going through a bone marrow transplant. The event brought in $17,000 last year.
John Swenson, Andrew's father, said one of Andrew's friends recently relapsed. "That's what we need to build up the fund for. So we can help these guys out. When they need it, they need it."
He is hoping for nice weather and crowds.
"We'd love to see people line the streets as they come by, that would really mean a lot for those guys," he said.
In Hudson, bikers will ride on Cox Street, then cross Rte. 85, pass the police station, turn left onto Central Street and then turn right onto Rte. 62 West.
Tickets will be available the day of the event or at C&C Motorcycle Specialties at 152 Washington St.
For more information, contact Kevin Corey at 508-904-0068 or visit www.xtremeriders.org, or visit www.andrewshelpfulhands.org.
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