Andrew Del Frari: “Wellspring helped me turn my life around”
Andrew Del Frari has worked incredibly hard to reinvent his life, after a cancer diagnosis at age 52 ended his 26-year career in the education field, and left him with limited mobility and a diminished sense of purpose.
“When I was first diagnosed, I thought I’ll just deal with this cancer and then when things get back to normal, I’ll go back to work. I had no idea how hard it would hit me when that didn’t happen – when there was no normal to return to,” said Andrew.
It was July 2017 when Andrew woke up with no vision in his left eye. Assuming the sudden vision loss was related to a stroke, his doctor ordered an MRI, but while the scan showed lesions on his brain – nothing indicated stroke or cancer. Four months later when symptoms persisted a second MRI was ordered and this time it came back showing that Andrew had a four-centimeter brain tumour.
“Just days before Christmas, I was diagnosed with primary central nervous system lymphoma. They said it was very aggressive, considering the tumour grew to be four centimetres in diameter in just four months,” he said. “I was fortunate in one sense though, the cancer had not spread to my bone marrow”.
Andrew’s two sons in their teens, and his wife, a pre-school teacher, were shocked but very supportive. Andrew’s wife went on compassionate leave, as Andrew braced himself for the harrowing treatment that would include highly toxic chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant using his own stem cells.
“After they retrieved and stored my stems cells, they gave me dangerously strong chemo to kill every stem cell in my body and prepare for the transplant. It was brutal,” he said. “It was so potent, my body was getting rid of the toxins through my sweat glands, so I had to shower every six hours and change my clothes and bedding, otherwise the chemicals would burn my skin.”
In April 2018 Andrew successfully underwent the stem cell transplant, and two weeks after he was released from hospital in June – an MRI showed no sign of the brain tumour.
“Of course I was very relieved the cancer was gone, but at the same time, I was very uneasy. I wasn’t the same at all anymore, and I didn’t like the way my new life was looking.”
After two years of restorative exercises and physiotherapy, Andrew was declared ‘permanently disabled’ and told he would never return to work. This launched him into a major depression.
“I needed therapy and medication to bring me around. I had to come to the realization that yes I am disabled, this is the way it’s going to be now,” he shared.
Andrew felt particularly bad about how much his cancer affected those he loves.
“I felt terribly guilty for putting my family through all this. It’s been such a burden on my wife, I know how much it affected her and how it still affects her, she worries it will come back. I really wish it didn’t have to be this way, but I have had to find a way to make peace with it. To find acceptance,” he said.
A Boost from Wellspring
Around the time he finished treatment, Andrew discovered a Wellspring brochure and with some urging from his wife, he decided to check it out.
“Wellspring helped me turn my life around,” he said. “Right away I got the sense that I’m not alone. After cancer, your life is changed forever, but now I was around others who knew what it felt like and that helped.”
The first program Andrew signed up for was Money Matters. He appreciated Wellspring’s one-on-one approach to helping with insurance, drug coverage, and income replacement programs.
“Meghan was a tremendous help to my wife and I. She looked into all the forms we needed, helped us fill them all out, I really don’t know what we would have done without her,” he said.
He also joined Men’s Group in person before centres closed due to the pandemic, and he continues to attend online even now when he can.
“It’s nice to hear from men with all different kinds of cancers, talking about their experiences and their treatment,” said Andrew. “When I was going through my stem cell transplant there were others who were going through the same, or had gone through it, so it was helpful to talk and share information.”
Andrew also found that even with his limited mobility he could participate in the Chair Yoga program, which was something he had never imagined doing. But perhaps his greatest discovery was the power of art – in helping him to heal.
“I was going to the Open Art Studio program before the pandemic, but then there were four or five months when I didn’t really want to do anything. Then one day I showed up in the class again and they welcomed me back so warmly and openly, it made me feel very accepted – it was like I had never been gone – it made me very happy,” he said.
His wife noticed how the art program improved Andrew’s disposition, so she suggested that he think of art as his new job. This seemed to resonate. “For now it’s my new job. But really it’s therapy for me – a blessing in disguise. It has really been the art that has helped me move forward with this new life.”
Andrew makes a point to tell others who are living with cancer that they really do need to find their way to Wellspring.
“Whatever level you are at during or after cancer, there is something for you at Wellspring. They will welcome you, accept you, and help you move your life forward.”
In the meantime, slowly but surely, Andrew is coming to terms with his new reality.
“I had to come to a place and tell myself, it’s never going back to how it was. Life will be different. But can I make the best of it? Yes I can.”