BRENTWOODBRENTWOOD — Crazy how your life can change in a matter of hours.
That’s how Cassie Smith describes what happened the day she found out her toddler son had leukemia. Since then, the Brentwood mother of three and her husband David, a Brentwood police officer, have been on a roller coaster as they navigate their son’s health and try to figure out how they will meet all the expenses.
Cassie Smith was packing her bags for a weekend trip on June 5 when her 4-year-old son, Luca, woke up with a black eye and puffy face. A trip to the emergency room revealed what no parent wants to hear.
“The last 48 hours have been an absolute nightmare,” Cassie wrote on Facebook and later on an online fundraiser page. “Our baby boy has cancer.”
Within hours he was taken via ambulance to Kaiser Permanente Childrens Hospital and Research Center at Oakland, followed by more scans, an MRI, “lots of blood work.” Soon began the beginning of what will likely be six months of chemotherapy.
Though no one could ease the pain of the news, a little financial help soon came through an online campaign arranged by the Brentwood Police Activities League and the Wall of Heroes through the Fund the First program to help first responders in need.
Chris Bollinger, executive officer of Brentwood PAL and a school resource officer, made the referral, knowing that his friend and colleague would never ask for help himself.
“He is very well-liked,” Bollinger said of beat cop David Smith. “He’s an amazing guy and has a great family.”
Based in Brentwood, the Wall of Heroes program supports first responders or their family members as well as those in the military and veterans who have medical crises, can no longer work or are deployed away from home, such as during some wildland fires, hurricanes and other emergencies.
The group partners with the Fund the First crowdfunding platform to offer a secure online method to donate. All of their recipients have been referred through employers or colleagues, according to spokeswoman Jessie LaChance-Mellan.
With the Wall of Heroes, 100% of what is donated goes back to the family. So far, the campaign has raised $64,000. LaChance-Mellan said the fundraisers hope to reach the goal of $75,000 by July 6 to get the Smiths through the first rough patch, after which family and friends may be able to help with meals, housecleaning, child care and household tasks so the parents can focus on Luca.
“I know that with chemotherapy, this initial set is going to be six months, and Luca will go back and forth four to five times a week,” LaChance-Mellan said. “And you can kind of do the math. And that’s just the first six months.
Health insurance won’t cover gas, meals or medical co-payments, she said, noting the family has two other young children.
Luca has been diagnosed with B-ALL leukemia, and it’s unclear what treatment might be on tap after six months, LaChance-Mellan added.
Luca’s father has taken off work to be with his family, but offered to cover two shifts a week, though his colleagues disagreed. Some have even offered to donate their sick time to him.
“He was talking about coming in and we’re like ‘no,’ you need to worry about your family,” Bollinger said. “He doesn’t want to take charity and all that stuff. And he’s extremely overwhelmed with the amount of support that he has in this community.”
Even so, Brentwood PAL is planning a cornhole tournament and poker fundraiser for Smith’s family this summer. It also donated two air purifiers, because Luca will be immunocompromised and the family must keep their home extremely clean to keep him healthy, Bollinger said.
“I think there’s a lot of uncertainty right now because it’s so fresh and so new,” he said.
Once the six months of initial treatment are completed, Luca will be evaluated to see where he is and “what the game plan is, but we have been advised this will be at least a two-year ride,” Luca’s mother said in a recent update on Fund the First campaign page.
“We are devastated, confused, broken, and trying to muster the strength through these days and hopefully see our boy turn around for the better soon,” she added, noting that the family is “camped out at Kaiser” for his initial chemotherapy.
With no history of cancer in their families or their environment, Cassie Smith said it’s something she never imagined would happen to her family.
For his part, Bollinger said he just wants to do all he can to alleviate any unnecessary stress during this difficult time.
“He served his country (in the Navy) and now he’s serving his community that he grew up in,” Bollinger said about David Smith. “I don’t want them to have to worry about financial stuff or anything like that. We just want to help them out as much as we can.”
To donate, go to the Fund the First online campaign at https://bit.ly/3xRYdo1.