Tony Lesica, age 58, lives in Connecticut with his wife Jennine. A semi-retired financial planner, Tony is a chess player and football fan. He has three children: Jacquelyn (pictured here), Johnny, and Stacy. Tony was diagnosed with kidney cancer when he was 51 years old.
Pillars of Support, Leaning on Each Other
This month, KidneyCAN is sharing the Lesicas’ story. Meet Tony and Jackie, a father and daughter from New England who have helped each other cope with Tony’s diagnosis of advanced kidney cancer.
Jackie explains that the family learned of Tony’s illness when she was looking at colleges with her family. “My dad received a call during one of the tours, and I could immediately sense that something was wrong.” When her parents sat down with the family to share the news — stage IV kidney cancer –Jackie was devastated.
“My family had always been very healthy and active. My dad was a bodybuilder, and my mom was a marathon runner. I never really imagined something like this affecting my family,” she says.
In addition to coping with his diagnosis, Tony also had to think about how the news would impact his kids.
“As a parent, you are always thinking of protecting your children, whether it be from physical harm or emotional trauma. Jacquelyn and Johnny were both in high school at the time, and because of how far along my cancer was when initially diagnosed, we felt it best to share enough for them to understand the impact it will have on our family and what to expect going forward. I can proudly say that my kids embraced the news and have been pillars of support throughout,” he says.
Advice for the Newly Diagnosed
Jackie acknowledges that getting this news was especially difficult as a young adult applying to college and transitioning from the home. “It’s a lot to process,” she explains. “I asked myself ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ but quickly realized that the best thing I could do was to support my family and spread positivity during a tough time.”
Both Tony and Jackie say it’s important to stay positive as you process the news and make a plan for treatment. Staying away from Google can help. Jackie points out that “a lot of data may be outdated and doesn’t reflect recent advances in research and medicine.”
Tony says, “The best advice I can share (which is also the hardest to follow sometimes) is not to let setbacks or bad news lead you to overreact or think the worst. Let out the emotions , whether it’s anger or sadness, and then put it aside and start moving forward.”
Jackie echos Tony’s outlook. “Although we couldn’t control the news of the diagnosis, we could control many other things: the optimism towards next steps, the support given to my dad, the motivation to help a new cause. For those in similar situations – stay positive. When my dad was diagnosed in 2014, I read that chances of making it to the five year mark were 7%. Seven years later, I’m fortunate enough to keep going to Rangers games and going to my favorite cafe with my dad.”
Jackie Lesica, age 24, lives in New York City and works at an advisory firm. She loves to walk around the city and work out in her free time. Through her father’s kidney cancer diagnosis, she has learned that it’s not what happens, but our reactions, that makes an impact.
“What happens next after a setback is not determined by the news, but by how you react to it.”
– Tony Lesica
Tony says he is motivated by a desire to impact people’s lives for the better. “Whether it’s being a loving and supportive husband and father, or in my career as a financial planner, or with the volunteer work I do with KidneyCAN and the Family Reach program (providing pro-bono financial advice to cancer patients and their families), I want to give back for all the opportunites I’ve been afforded in my life.”
Jackie is motivated by considering how far she and her family have come. “The knowledge, emotional strength, and courage one develops when a family member receives a diagnosis is something I wouldn’t have nearly as much of otherwise. My family has learned to enjoy the good days, even the ‘okay’ days, to the fullest extent, and those fond memories make the bad days a bit more bearable, too.”
Finding Hope through Taking Action
Both Tony and Jackie have been inspired to advocate for kidney cancer research funding. Tony became interested in advocacy after taking part in a phase two study at the National Institutes of Health.
“Working with the research team there, it became so evident that these studies wouldn’t be possible without either government or private funding. My two older children have had genetic testing and found that they both have the same gene defect (HLRCC) that produced the cancer in me. [My advocacy] is for my children and others that may not have been diagnosed yet.”
Jackie decided to become an advocate after seeing firstand the impact such illnesses have on families. “Research funding has allowed my dad several opportunities for clinical trials and has helped my brother and me identify our genetic ties to the illness. We are able to get annual preventative testing with this information. So many people that are affected, like my dad, don’t know or don’t have symptoms until the cancer has advanced. I hope that with research and awareness, more people will be able to get help at an earlier stage, too.”
Tony and Jackie wanted to mention the clinicians and researchers who have helped Tony continue living fully after his kidney cancer diagnosis. Tony says, “I want to thank them for all the hard work and time they put into their research. For someone like myself, diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of kidney cancer, these programs give me hope that I will be able to see all the things we dream of … children graduating, children getting married, retirement, etc. Without them, there is no tomorrow to look forward to. “
Jackie says, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the clinicians and researchers that put so much work into these programs. Their research is what has kept my dad alive and active to this day. We are always excited and more at ease to hear about new clinical trials in the works that may help my dad. Their dedication and push to start new programs is life-changing for so many families.”