Jen Arellano was ready to face the music at Jammin’ for Jen, a benefit concert in her honor at the Boathouse in Harveys Lake on July 14.
After a third cancer diagnosis, there’s not much Arellano isn’t ready to face.
The 37-year-old Harveys Lake resident battled the disease in 2007 and 2010, and learned that she had cancer in her lymph nodes in March of this year. Two months later, her husband, 41-year-old Scott, lost his job.
“To be honest, it’s been hell,” said Scott. “It’s been six years of nonstop, one thing after another.”
One thing weighing on the family is the crushing amount of debt that accompanies long-term illness. Shannon Bogart, one of Jen’s closest friends, decided to find a way to help.
“I’ve known Jen for a long time,” said Bogart, of Nanticoke. “Our husbands went to school together, our kids went to Lehman together. We’ve been through all of this together. I said, ‘Why not do it?’”
The day-long benefit featured eight live bands and countless raffle prizes, with proceeds helping the Arellano family with incoming bills.
“You think insurance covers a lot, but it doesn’t,” said Scott Arellano. “My insurance with my old job was pretty good, but those co-pays add up. Cancer patients have more than one doctor. At one time, Jen was seeing three doctors every week.”
After her first diagnosis of stage two breast cancer at the age of 29, Jen had a double mastectomy and full hysterectomy.
“I thought that because I got it so young it wouldn’t be so bad,” she said. “But in 2010, I knew it had come back, and the doctors didn’t believe me. It’s like when you have a broken leg and you break it again – you know what it feels like.”
Jen, who finally bought the house of her dreams in Harveys Lake Borough in 2007, has fears of having to move away from the community that has supported her all these years due to increasing medical expenses.
“I lived in apartments all my life and finally bought my house off the lake,” she said. “I love this house. I want to live the rest of my life in this house. And I’m afraid I’m going to lose this house.”
Scott is trying to find ways to squeeze the family’s budget during these trying times.
“Everyone says to tighten the belt another notch, but there aren’t enough holes in my belt anymore,” he said. “We don’t go anywhere anymore. We don’t do anything. This is it.”
Jen is currently undergoing chemotherapy until doctors can retest her in August to find out of the cancer has spread to her lungs. It’s a difficult time for the family, especially for Jen’s youngest daughter.
“She tries to be strong but I know she goes up to her room and cries,” said Jen. “Another part of it, too, is that she worries she will get it. My cancer wasn’t genetic but she’s still worried.”
Jen said she can see how hard it is for the family to cope, but everyone is doing their part to help.
“My daughter and husband do all the housework,” said Jen. “I am just focusing on healing. I have to.”
During the event, Jen had to take a few breaks, as she has been having difficulty breathing lately. She said most of the time she rests or sleeps.
“Thank God I have dogs, because otherwise I’d have blood clots in my legs,” she said. “I sleep and then I take them outside.”
Scott said Jen has good days and bad days and the family is working to create some semblance of normalcy in the household.
“I don’t want it to be about cancer all the time,” he said. “We’re not trying to concentrate on it. But then someone will call and tell us that someone else has it. It’s hard.”
Jen said the one thing that keeps her going is the support and love from her family.
“I just want to see my kids grow up,” she said. “I don’t care if I’m missing limbs or limping around – they are what I’m most proud of and I just want to see them become who they will be.”