LISBON, Maine — It was like a bad cold and sinus infection that wouldn’t go away, Jenica Barry said, which made the holidays a difficult time for her husband, Keith Barry.
The illness persisted, and he continued to get sicker, which is “when this stuff started happening really quick — fast and furious,” Jenica Barry said.
Her husband finally went to the emergency room. After testing, the 41-year-old was told he had acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
A benefit potluck supper for the family will take place Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall at 2 Columbus Drive in Brunswick. Admission is by donation, and there will be a cash bar, a disc jockey, 50/50 raffles and a silent auction, all to help the Barry family with medical expenses. Cash only is requested.
A volunteer nurse is scheduled to be at the benefit to take DNA swabs from people interested in joining a nationwide bone marrow registry.
Barry remembers how scary it was to hear the diagnosis of cancer, “like the vacuum sucking air out of your lungs scary.”
Always a healthy guy, Keith has been at Central Maine Medical Center for three weeks and likely will remain hospitalized for another couple of weeks. The next course of treatment depends on the results of a biopsy he had late last week, Barry said. After more testing, doctors will formulate a treatment plan that could include a bone marrow transplant or stem cell therapy.
It’s likely Keith will require treatment from specialists at a Boston hospital, his wife said.
Keith recently underwent a seven-day, round-the-clock chemotherapy drip. During the treatment, hospital staff found him a guitar to play — but now he doesn’t have the energy and rarely can leave his room. He has been in good spirits and had many visitors, but his hospital stay is starting to take a toll, Jenica Barry said. Her husband wants to be home with their three children but can’t. And their children — an 11-year-old boy and 5-year-old twins, a girl and a boy — have colds, so they haven’t been able to see their dad. When they can, there can be no physical contact, because Keith needs to be careful about exposure to germs.
The anticipated medical bills are scary, Barry said. Keith had just started on a new health insurance plan Dec. 31, so the family needs to make sure the new policy kicked in properly.
Neil LaRochelle of Lisbon spearheaded the benefit supper for his friend and said he got the idea while attending a recent benefit dinner for another friend who needs a double lung transplant. He talked to close friends and nominated people to take charge of various aspects of donations to make the event possible. Within one day of announcing plans for the benefit, LaRochelle needed to find a larger venue because more than 150 people had indicated their intention to attend.
“So many people wanted to help Keith and his family,” LaRochelle said.
His son and Keith’s oldest son play basketball and baseball together, and they have developed a strong friendship during the last couple of years.
Auction items include an autographed Carl Yastrzemski plaque, Boston Celtics tickets, Portland Sea Dogs picnic seats, $500 in Frank FM radio advertising, a $125 car detail, a Samsung Galaxy 3 tablet, a limousine and driver for an evening and several gift certificates. It’s been difficult to keep track of all the donated items coming in, LaRochelle said.
“Tons of stuff,” LaRochelle said.
“It’s overwhelming, the amount of support the community has brought in,” Barry said. “It’s a real tight-knit community we’re part of.”
The financial support is certainly needed, but it is the emotional support that really has meant a lot. Everyone is helping with the children, keeping them distracted and happy. The school system immediately put measures in place to support the family as well.
“We’re just wrapped up in so much support and so much love, and it’s amazing and overwhelming and heartwarming,” Barry said. “A thank you is not enough. Appreciation is just not enough for everything they’ve done.”
For more information, visit the Benefit Potluck dinner for Keith Barry page on Facebook. There also is a GoFundMe page, and anyone can go to a Five County Credit Union and donate to the Keith Barry fund.