The deliveries come to the Lupo family home in Hazlet twice a week around dinnertime. On Mondays, it’s pizzas. On Thursdays, the smorgasbord includes chicken parmigiana, buffalo wings, subs and salads.
A local Italian place, Giuseppe Pizza & Restaurant, sends the goods gratis. It’s a kind gesture to make life a bit easier for 17-year-old Jack Lupo, his parents and three siblings. Jack has been undergoing chemotherapy for Ewing sarcoma — a rare cancer found in his right ankle — and is facing a 16-hour surgery Sept. 6.
Childhood cancer is a gut punch for any family. Adding to the Lupos’ hardship, both of Jack’s parents are out of work. His mother Sarah took leave from her job in radiology to be at Jack’s side through the endless appointments and hospital stays at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. His father Mike is a painter who’s been largely sidelined by injuries incurred from a fall off a ladder in 2020.
“It’s been rough,” Sarah Lupo said, “but people have been so incredibly generous.”
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A community is rallying behind them, from multiple local charities to the alumni of his high school hockey team to the guy delivering chicken parm (Jack’s favorite) on Thursdays. The material help makes a difference, and so does the moral support.
“I can’t even explain how much it’s meant to me,” Jack said. “I’m really thankful for what everyone is doing.”
'He knew I was strong enough'
Through three years as a student at St. John Vianney High School, Jack Lupo was living the dream. He’s posted a 3.9 grade-point average while playing varsity ice hockey and lacrosse and holding a job at Grana Pizza Café in Matawan. In May, right after the Lancers’ final lacrosse game, he experienced ankle pain. At first he chalked it up to soreness from the sport. But later, imaging revealed the bad news: It was Ewing sarcoma, a cancer that begins in a bone or joint and typically occurs in children and young adults.
Jack spent the summer undergoing chemotherapy — three cycles of three weeks apiece. Unable to play hockey or lacrosse, he took up the gentler sport of golf to stay active.
“I’m feeling pretty good right now, just taking it day by day,” he said. “I get a little nauseous now and then.”
Right after his diagnosis, Sarah said, Jack told his family members, “God gave me this because He knew I was strong enough.” He’s handled the numerous challenges — fatigue, nausea, isolation (his immune system is compromised during the chemo cycle) and uncertainty — without complaint.
“He’s always smiling and so positive," Sarah said. “If he had hair, you’d never know there was anything wrong.”
A critical step in Jack’s treatment comes Sept. 6, when he'll undergo a 16-hour bone regeneration surgery to remove and replace his right tibia (the main bone between the knee and ankle) with a metal rod that will help regrow the bone over time. Two follow-up surgeries will be needed, plus 10 more rounds of chemotherapy.
“Once we’re done with this, God willing, he can do whatever he did before,” Sarah said.
As with many families in their position, it bothers the Lupos that less than 5% of federal spending on cancer research is devoted to the pediatric forms of the disease. The good news is that goodwill groups are doing their best to fill the gap.
It takes a village
A day after Bob Heugle got a phone call about Jack’s illness, he was at the Lupo home. Heugle never had met them before, but his Frances Foundation, a Holmdel-based nonprofit that assists local pediatric cancer patients and their families, provided gift cards and offers of further financial assistance.
Heugle has seen it all, but even he was taken aback by the Lupos’ reaction.
“They already, at their very first meeting with me, were telling me about how they want to give back to the Frances Foundation,” Heugle said. “The very first meeting, when their kid is just starting the cycles of chemo. That’s what really struck me.”
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Jack will be among the honorees at the Frances Foundation’s annual gala Oct. 21. His whole family will be guests as well.
“Even in the best of times, it’s hard,” Heugle said of the financial strain on pediatric cancer families. “All the parents' priorities go to getting that kid well. They put everything aside — that includes jobs.”
Another local charity, Infinite Love for Kids Fighting Cancer, launched an online fundraiser for the Lupos that has raised $42,000 of the $75,000 goal so far. Infinite Love was founded by Middletown resident Andrea Verdone Gorsegner, whose daughter Natalie was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 (Natalie is now 13 and is considered cured).
Earlier this month, participants in the annual St. John Vianney ice hockey alumni charity game dedicated the event to the Lupo family, bringing a big crowd together with Jack in attendance.
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“I want Jack to know how much support he has and how much he inspires other people,” Sarah Lupo said. “I’ll be the first to admit — he is holding us all up.”
The well-worn phrase “it takes a village” certainly applies here. Jack Lupo knows better than anyone. Reflecting on the support from strangers, neighbors, siblings and especially his parents — who set aside everything to help him fight — Jack summarized three brutal months in four wonderful words.
“I truly feel loved.”
You can support the Lupo family fundraiser online at www.flipcause.com/secure/cause_pdetails/MTg0MzE4 or by mailing a donation to Infinite Love for Kids Fighting Cancer, c/o "Jack Strong" at P.O. Box 4064, Middletown, NJ 07748.
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected].