CAMBRIDGE, Maine — Jesse Smart had worked all his adult life in places such as Fayscott, Hartland Tannery, Hardwood Products and most recently, Sanfield Nursing Care Center, and he was in good physical shape.
So when he started losing weight rapidly earlier this year, he sought medical attention and advice.
“I went from 242 pounds to 185 in about five weeks,” Smart said. “But no one seemed to know why until I went to [Mayo Regional Hospital] Dover-Foxcroft.”
Smart said that Dr. Abhijit Shaligram ordered a CAT scan and biopsy.
“They told me I had cancer in my liver and pancreas,” Smart said. “Eventually, it spread to my ribs and hip.”
Smart’s wife, Lynda Smart, is taking her husband to the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer several times per week for a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
“They have to do radiation on the hip,” Jesse Smart said. “About two-thirds of my bone is already gone.”
Even though Smart, 69, has Medicare, it only covers part of the cost of treatment. His medication is a staggering $10,000 for a 28-day supply, said Lynda Smart.
“Insurance covers 70 percent, so we have to come up with $3,000 a month,” she said. “And we don’t have that kind of money.”
She said that at least one pharmaceutical company has provided them with samples of the pills that will last him for a few weeks. Also, a patient advocate from the cancer center is searching for other ways to have his treatment covered.
In addition to the medication bills, it also is costly for the Smarts to make round trips to Brewer — sometimes five days per week — from their Cambridge home.
Fortunately, the Smarts also have many friends — including the Piscataquis Community High School Class of 1963.
They’re serving a traditional Maine dinner featuring baked beans, casseroles, yeast rolls, homemade desserts and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on Saturday night, Dec. 6, at the Mount Kineo Masonic Lodge in Guilford.
Admission is by donation, and there also will be a silent auction with Christmas gift items, baskets, gift cards and more. Serving time is 4:30-6 p.m.
Family friend Pam Smith of Sangerville also is collecting donations for those who want to help but can’t make the dinner. Checks should be made out to Smith and mailed to her home at 101 McNaughton Hill Road, Sangerville, ME 04479.
Smith said the financial burden on the Smarts is “heartbreaking. The big issue, for me, is that everyday people are priced out of the market and only rich people can afford to take the medication that might save, or prolong, their lives.”
Lynda Smart said that this isn’t Jesse Smart’s first battle with illness.
“He had polio when he was 4 years old and battled back from that,” she said. “He’s been a fighter all his life.”
The couple had been high school sweethearts and got married the day after they graduated.
On Dec. 2, Smart is scheduled for a bone scan to check the progress of the treatment. Even though he’s tired most of the time, he said he’s still upbeat.
“Sure, things have been tough,” he said. “But God is looking out for me.”