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South High Class of '72 rallies to raise money for ailing classmate

April 25, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Pat Simons, standing in the second row with the tan blazer, poses with classmates from South Hagerstown High School Class of 1972 during a fundraiser in his honor earlier this month. Simons is battling liver cancer and awaiting a liver transplant.
Submitted photo

HAGERSTOWN — Some of the most lasting friendships are those forged through the tumultuous high school years, but as Pat Simons learned, some of those bonds can grow even stronger when tested by a life-altering event.

On Oct. 24, 2011, the day started off on a positive note for the 58-year-old Hagerstown resident. Simons was gearing up to celebrate his granddaughter’s birthday, but shortly after arriving at the birthday celebration, his life started to take a dramatic turn.

Simons’ daughter-in-law, Angie, who is also a registered nurse, was very concerned about her father-in-law’s appearance that night.

A few days later, he went to urgent care for testing.

“I was feeling so weak,” Simons said.

A few days later, he was admitted to Meritus Medical Center near Hagerstown for several days of testing.

Then, after meeting with a liver specialist at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore in January, he was told he had liver cancer.

Despite the grim diagnosis, Simons is determined to beat the odds.

“When they came back with the final, ‘Yes it is cancer,’ I walked out of the doctor’s office, and I just kept telling myself, ‘Cancer knocked on the wrong door. I haven’t been in a hell of a fight for a long time – I am not going down easy,’” Simons said.

He said the doctors credit his determination for the progress that he has made. So far, he’s undergone chemotherapy and learned last week that he was added to the University of Maryland’s transplant list, awaiting a new liver.

While he’s depending on his determination to help pull him through, fellow students from South Hagerstown High School’s Class of 1972 are giving him some much-needed support.

When Debbie Nalley Kenney found out her classmate was in trouble, she took action, organizing her first fundraiser.

Despite the daunting task, Kenney organized the “big class of baby boomers” for a meal, silent auction and dancing fundraiser on April 13 at Dimensions Dining and Catering in Hagerstown.

About 240 people attended the event, raising $10,683. Kenney said that $6,668.76 will be available to offset Simons’ medical expenses.

Simons has been unable to work as an electrician since last fall, and Kenney wanted to help him financially.

“Our priority was the medical bills, and the continuation of his insurance because, without the continuation of that insurance, the hospital will not treat him, and he will not be able to receive his transplant or his chemotherapy treatments,” Kenney said.

In addition, the liver transplant costs more than $1 million, and Kenney said Simons’ chemotherapy costs $5,000 each month.

If he gets his liver transplant, the medication for anti-rejection drugs will be $10,000 just for the first year, she said.

“South High’s Class of 1972 has become a family in the last 2 1/2 years. We truly care about each other,” Kenney said. “We cry with each other. We rejoice with each other. We share the events in our life. It’s as if 40 years have not passed.”

Simons said he was touched by the unbelievable support of his classmates.

“So many people come up to me and say, ‘You don’t know how much of an inspiration you are to us,’” said Simons, referring to his determination to beat his diagnosis. “I’m going to beat this, and that’s all there is to it. I’m not going down to cancer.

“I told everybody I’m going to be around to watch my two grandkids graduate high school,” Simons said, referring to Makenzie, 8, and Avery, 7.

“I am very grateful for all of them (Class of 1972), and I’m glad he has that kind of support,” said Simons’ daughter-in-law, Angie. “It’s so nice to see that his support team is so much bigger than we even knew.”

The fundraising committee of Kenney, Vicky Reeder Yates, Kay Hoffman, Debbie Kendle Sheppard, Jan Forrest Rudisill and Debi Crone Cantler plan to continue the fund to help future classmates with catastrophic illness or live-altering events.

Donations are still being accepted. Call 301-991-4863 for details.

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