coach Barry Gorodnick and his wife, Jen, were both working as high school softball coaches when they met in January of 1996.
The two would fall in love, get married, and have three children to fill their Centreville home.
It was the classic American dream; but in 2010, the unexpected came down on them. Three days before Christmas, Barry woke up with stomach pain powerful enough to send him to the emergency room.
“He was symptom-free until he was diagnosed,” Jen Gorodnick said. “They did a CAT scan and it showed the cancer.”
Gorodnick, 47, began treatment immediately for stage 3 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Gorodnick up till then had been very active, spending the weekends with his wife and three children, Kaitlyn, 11, Taylor, 10, and Ryan, 7.
“In the beginning, they were very scared,” Jen Gorodnick said. “They saw him get sick from the medicine then get better, then sick…I think that they were confused and worried.”
The cancer had formed a tumor around his side. His oncologist, Dr. Padma Kamineni, started him on chemotherapy for treatment.
One of the things he misses the most while having to undergo treatment: being a softball coach, football coach, and technology specialist at Robinson where he is known as “Coach G.” He is currently taking some time off from the school where he has worked since 1988.
“I loved being at Robinson and getting up and doing my job every day,” Barry Gorodnick said. “Coaching was a big part of my life.”
Raising funds for treatment
When he was first diagnosed, the support from the Robinson community and from family and friends was overwhelming. The family got dozens of platters of comfort foods, especially lasagna.
“We ended up with 15 lasagnas,” Jen Gorodnick said.
He had a bone marrow transplant in November 2011 and at first he was able to return to work for about six weeks, but the cancer came back this February.
When that happened, a friend asked what she could do to help and she posted the Gorodnick family's story on Facebook and a site called GoFundMe.com, where the family has asked for donations since both parents have taken time off work and they’ve had the burden of medical co-pays.
Family and friends have raised $48,000 from 345 large and small donations since February.
“We’ve heard from a lot of former students,” Jen Gorodnick said. “I can’t express enough how generous people have been.”
Comments left on the GoFundMe site from hundreds of well-wishers include:
“Coach we thank you for what you have done for Robinson, its students and athletes. Good luck with your fight and we pray for your speedy recovery.”
Helping to organize the fundraiser is Cathy Velis, who met Jen Gorodnick through their children who attend Poplar Tree Elementary School.
“We’re blown away and we’re very pleased,” Velis said. “It’s amazing to see the impact the family had on everybody.”
Living with Cancer
Gorodnick has been enrolled in a clinical trial, which started Tuesday. Doctors are attempting to shrink the tumor before a second bone marrow transplant can be done with an unrelated donor.
Finding an appropriate donor for a transplant is a challenge. His information is put into a nationwide database of potential donors with the hope that one person will be a match.
In between frequent doctor’s visits, the formerly active coach watches ESPN and tries to distract himself.
“Some days are better then others,” Barry Gorodnick said.
The tumor in Gorodnick’s side makes it excruciating to lay down flat, so he sleeps and sits in a recliner in the family room.
“People offer to help, but I knew when I got married that this could be something I would do. We said ‘in sickness and in health.’ And that no one would take care of him like I do,” Jen Gorodnick said.
She sleeps in a twin bed beside him overnight.
“It’s been an eye opener,” Barry Gorodnick said. “It’s really brought us closer together as a family.”
An IV stand distributing pain and anti-nausea medications is propped in the family room. Jen gives him the medications and encourages him to eat, a difficult task when powerful pain medications have caused him to lose his appetite.
“I know a lot more about cancer and chemo and anti-nausea medications then I ever thought I would,” Jen Gorodnick said. “If I would have known about this I would have gotten a nursing degree.”
The family hopes that the new treatments will produce better results, though they admit that being optimistic about the bone marrow transplant is more difficult for the family this time around.
“It’s taken a toll, but I still think I’m going to beat it,” Barry Gorodnick said. “We just have a long road. We just have to stay focused. When you’re by yourself sometimes your mind wanders.”
To see if you could be a match for Barry Gorodnick’s bone marrow transplant or any one else in need of a bone marrow transplant, visit www.bethematch.org. The test is free and requires a swab of the mouth.
To help the Gorodnick’s cause, visit his fundraising page at http://www.gofundme.com/barryg