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    Blog — Beneficiary Bio

    Melissa Close

    Melissa Close

    When community do-gooder, Ron Aughtmon, speaks of Melissa Close Farmer, words like, 'hero', 'fighter', 'determination' are spoken. Melissa, a volunteer firefighter and EMT in the Ransomville region, is just 33-years-old and battling an aggressive form of cervical cancer. So aggressive that Ron says doctors have declared that it's inoperable.
    "She has gone through numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and it spread to her femur, liver and lungs," explains Ron. 
    Ron, Co-Founder of The John Fiore Foundation, isn't related to Melissa but knows her impact on the community through his son and daughter, who are also in the firefighting service. News of her tragic illness has hit local departments hard, and companies have rallied continuously for Melissa and her husband. 
    "It's been a very tough go for her, and she is so young. The outcome isn't optimistic, but you can't lose hope," Ron says. 
    Melissa has been undergoing chemo that isn't just rigorous - it's expensive. Funds that are being raised for Melissa in all directions are going straight to the piling medical bills. With uncertainty looming, Melissa and her family are taking it day by day. But one thing is for certain - Melissa loves her hometown of Western New York and the Buffalo Bills. Ron says knowing how much hometown support she has around her is inspiring. 
    "Look at what you all are doing, who support 26 Shirts. You are making a difference for people here in this community - people who need us, like Melissa. It's really something to be proud of." 
    Melissa's 26 Shirt campaign launched 7/26 and runs through 8/8. This story provided in partnership with Kate Glaser of Hope Rises. Learn more at www.hoperisesnews.com

    Keeley Noworyta

    Keeley Noworyta

    Eight-year-old Keeley is a lover of arts and crafts, dolls and on a normal year, she would be spending her spring and summer months on the soccer field. Unfortunately that is not her current reality. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with a form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer that has targeted her lymph nodes and lungs.

    “Now that she has a routine down, she’s rolling with it,” says her mom, Laura. “She is just amazingly strong.”

    From losing parts of her hair and having to shave her head, to having to have a mediport inserted to receive chemotherapy, Keeley has kept that strong spirit, making comments like, “This is cool…I am bald!” Her mom says that she has encouraged not just her as a mother, but also the many people they have met in this cancer journey.

    After her fifth round of chemo, Laura says that Keeley should be done with treatment, as there are no signs of cancer cells detected. Through it all, she says community kindness has kept them all going as a family.

     "It all started in early January when we discovered that something was wrong and fast forward to now, we are doing remarkably okay and people, like the doctors and childlife specialists at Roswell and Del from 26 Shirts, have helped us more than they realize.”

     Laura says that she has always followed the stories of those who benefit from the 26 Shirt campaigns, and now that her daughter is one, she is extremely thankful for the outpouring of compassion.

    “Everything is still surreal. We feel grateful for the position that we are in that we have good health insurance, but it doesn’t cover gas, parking, extras – everything really adds up. We are so grateful that there are so many people who are willing to help.”

    So, what is next for Keeley? She turns nine in a few weeks and at the same time, she should be able to ring the victory bell, signifying no more cancer! She also looks forward to lacing up her cleats and getting back on the soccer field very soon.

    Keeley’s 26 Shirt campaign launched 6/14 and runs through 6/27. This story provided in partnership with Kate Glaser of Hope Rises. Learn more at www.hoperisesnews.com

    Adrian Gomez

    Adrian Gomez

    Like every energetic young boy, Adrian Gomez likes to climb and jump around. Though it always made his mother, Diane nervous, she says his playful spirit likely saved his life.

    “When he was jumping around and fell from a chair, a hardened dot formed on his foot, and we thought it was just a result of him falling,” she says. “But the tiny bump continued to grow, and we couldn’t ignore it.”

    At first doctors told her it was a cyst and there was nothing to worry about. However, it didn’t go away and after a few months, Diane requested more action to be taken. An MRI and biopsy revealed that Adrian had a very rare form of soft tissue sarcoma. Just six years old, Adrian was now in the fight of his life against childhood cancer.

    “It came as a shock – how could this be? It was so hard because everything moved so quickly. He had two surgeries in one week and then started chemotherapy immediately. My husband and I went through the motions of feeling sad, angry, scared and it really was all overwhelming.”

    Adrian’s left pinky toe was removed to try to stop the spread of the cancer, and a port was inserted to receive chemo. Unfortunately, the cancer spread quickly from Adrian’s foot into his lymph nodes and bone marrow. For months, the chemotherapy he was receiving was not responding, and cancer cells were found in his spine. Adrian is now on a higher dose of chemotherapy three days in a row, which is very hard on his tiny, fragile body.

    His mom says that although the cancer is strong, he’s stronger. “He is resilient, and so brave.”

    When Adrian’s teacher referred him as a recipient for 26 Shirts, Diane says both her and her husband felt instantly supported and like they weren’t in this fight alone.

    “Especially in Buffalo, you don’t have to know people and they still send their love, positivity and strength. Every person in Buffalo always goes above and beyond. The community is there to support you – you feel the love and support from afar.”

    Adrian Gomez’s 26 Shirt campaign launched 5/17 and runs through 5/30. This story provided in partnership with Hope Rises at www.hoperisesnews.com

    Kevin Newton

    Kevin Newton

    Kevin Newton was a healthy 45-year-old, who loved to travel with his family and enjoy outdoor life, like fishing, golfing and boating. But one day, in the fall of 2020, a scan on his bladder revealed the devastating news – stage 4 cancer.

    “They said, ‘there is a tumor the size of your kidney on your kidney’ and they also told us that the cancer spread to his lungs,” says Tammy, Kevin’s wife. “Never in a million years did we imagine this nightmare.”

    Just weeks later, his diseased kidney was removed and a biopsy on his lung gave them more insight as to what was going on with Kevin internally. Tammy says that the kidney cancer he had spread to his lungs and the oncologist recommended the strongest and most aggressive medicine to treat it.

    “He did it for three months and it just didn’t work, and the cancer continued to spread throughout his chest.”

    With the even further devastating news, Kevin took a trip to Myrtle Beach to make memories with those he loves most. The heaviness of his diagnosis weighed on them all, including the couple’s son, Tyler.

    “The one thing the doctors kept telling us is that they are not giving up on him.”

    Kevin is now on a chemo regimen and it’s been really challenging for him, making him so sick that he has a hard time functioning.

    “Kevin thinks about the slideshow of his life, knowing how fragile it is, and we’ve all had such a good life together, but he is too young and this is not the outcome we want,” Tammy exclaims.

    She adds that Del from 26 Shirts called her to offer financial support and it couldn’t have been at a better time – especially after having to leave his job because of the debilitating impact of the cancer.

    “I cannot even put it into words what this means for us and for families that are going through cancer or other terminal illness. We are blessed, beyond grateful and fighting hard.”

    This blog provided in partnership with Hope Rises. Find their stories of hope and kindness at hoperisesnews.com 

    Sophie VanKoughnet

    Sophie VanKoughnet

    3-year-old Sophie VanKoughnet is described by her mom, Stephanie as vivacious and full of life with strength well beyond her years. That strength is coupled with fierce determination to fight more than any toddler should have to.

    “It all started even before she was born,” says Stephanie. “I had a lot of problems prenatal, but doctors weren’t quite sure what was wrong and even after she was born, she passed all health checks.”

    However, Sophie was not gaining weight and her tiny body struggled with nursing. Every time she tried to eat, Sophie could not swallow properly and would aspirate. Stephanie says at just five-weeks-old, she had immediate surgery to have a gastrostomy tube or feeding tube inserted. Through 11-months, Sophie only took in liquids through her g tube.

    “Sophie was eventually diagnosed with Pallister-Hall Syndrome, an extremely rare condition with less than 100 diagnosed cases in history. There is a man diagnosed with Pallister-Hall in Australia that we have reached out to, but there really isn’t much information out there.”

    Since the diagnosis, the family has asked many questions regarding Sophie’s health, but there have not been many answers. In her short and fragile life, Sophie has undergone ten surgeries and also deals with hypoglycemia, causing complications with her blood sugar, as well as a hematoma in her brain, which could eventually lead to blindness.

    “My husband and I were in zombie mode when she was a baby and even now it’s extremely difficult, but we are all adapting,” Stephanie says. “One thing I can say loud and proud is that Sophie faces so many obstacles, but she adapts to them all. Her complex condition is a tough pill to swallow, but she has changed me as a person for the better.”

    The family is tight knit, with Sophie having a six-year-old brother, who is also impacted by the struggles of her critical condition. The family are die-hard Buffalo sports fans and think so highly of the impact the community has in helping those in need. That’s why when they heard about a shirt drop for Sophie, they were “over the moon” thrilled to have awareness around Sophie’s journey.

    “26 Shirts…Buffalo…WNY and this campaign give me hope. Sometimes it all seems like too much, but then things like this come up and I feel hopeful,” Stephanie explains.

    She adds, “Sophie has taught me and others to live in the moment and never give up. I hope out of anything that comes from Sophie’s story that people feel inspired to keep going, no matter the challenge ahead.”
    This story is provided in partnership with Hope Rises. Learn more at www.hoperisesnews.com.