Contractor and cancer survivor Frank Annaldo (C), and his gastrointestinal oncologist, Dr. Robert Mayer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, at the WEEI Studio at Fenway Park during the Jimmy Fund Radiothon in August.
After some 30 years of laying foundations, supervising earthmovers and breaking ground, Frank Annaldo needed to do more digging.
Deeply, within his own torso. And when he did, he saved his own life.
Annaldo, a construction worker, supervisor and builder for three decades from Hampton, N.H., was one of hundreds of cancer survivors who recently told their story over the airwaves in Boston in August.
Annaldo and his gastrointestinal oncologist, Dr. Robert Mayer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, were guests on the popular Dale and Holley mid-day show on WEEI Sports Radio Network, the flagship station of the Boston Red Sox and Celtics. The broadcast was part of 36 hours of the WEEI/New England Sports Network (NESN) Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon to raise money for cancer research.
The Jimmy Fund has been the Red Sox prominent charity since Ted Williams popularized it in 1953.
WEEI began this telethon tradition in 2002, teaming up with the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund to produce and broadcast an 18-hour Radiothon that raised nearly $325,000 in one day to help fight cancer in children and adults. In 2003, NESN joined in, and the second annual event shattered all expectations, raising more than $1 million to support the Jimmy Fund’s fight against cancer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Over the past eight years, this event has raised more than $21 million for research and care at Dana-Farber.
In 2009, local sports fans were moved to give donations through interviews with cancer patients and survivors, physicians and researchers, and athletes and celebrities, all of whom came together to raise more than $4.5 million. This year, the ambitious goal was $5 million, but, for the first time, the fundraiser fell a couple million short, due to tough economic times.
One of 100 Tales
Annaldo’s story was one of 100 told over the radio and on TV in August. It goes like this:
“I’ve been in construction, going on over 30 years. I actually started when I took a course in the Army, back in 1975-78,” said Annaldo. “It was a carpenter’s course. When I got out, I just pursued that field.
“I started off as a laborer, framing houses. From there, the same gentleman I worked for opened up a foundation business, concrete foundations, residential and commercial. From that point, I worked in the union, doing natural gas lines, from the old cast iron pipe to the plastic PVC pipe, in the late 70s, early 80s,” added Annaldo.
“I just kind of progressively moved into different areas of construction. I did some excavating for a company called R & D Homes, based in Ayer, Mass. I was a superintendent for them. We did everything, helped dig the holes, help pour the foundations, we did everything from the ground up.
“I ran the big Caterpillars, the backhoes, the excavators. We had a couple of Bobcats, bulldozers. It was a pretty fair amount of machines. From that point, I got into being a superintendent, to really running the projects. And then, progressively, into learning how to build homes completely. I learned and learned, from A to Z, then left to start my own business.”
In 1997, Annaldo began his own company, but not in Hampton.
“We moved out to Kansas back in 1991, because the economy went down then,” he said. “My wife took on a job at Garmin, the GPS Company. So, we moved out to Kansas and, again, I took on superintendent jobs. At one point, I started my own home building company with a partner.”
Still with Boston roots, his choice of company name was curious.
“It was called East Coast Homes,” he laughed. “I actually thought about being from here. I actually took some kidding about it [out in Kansas].”
Annaldo ran his business for almost three years.
“We kind of decided we wanted to move back home to Hampton, New Hampshire,” which is 30 miles north of Boston on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire line. Ironically, he didn’t keep the name East Coast Homes. He worked for a year to get his feet wet again, then named his company after himself, Annaldo Construction.
“That was easy,” he laughed.
“I am a one-man show. If I need people, if I do a bigger job, I’ll hire subcontractors to do the electrical, do the plumbing. They get it done quicker. But, I’m pretty much a one-man show. There are a lot less headaches,” said Annaldo.
The aches, however, unexpectedly began to come not in Annaldo’s head, but deep within his torso.
“In 2007, I just went for a routine physical. I had a little stomachache. It had just gone on a little bit longer than I thought was normal,” said Annaldo. He had planned a colonoscopy anyway, but pushed it up sooner. “That’s when they found it. They found cancer, a mass in my colon, the size of a golf ball. I was 51.
“I was supposed to do a colonoscopy the year before, but I blew it off. I had a lot of jobs to do,” said the one-man show. “One of the leading causes for the kind of cancer I had is your diet. I can attest to that. You eat off that lunch wagon that comes into the parking lot every day…. If you’re eating bad food all the time, well…”
Frank Annaldo had to tell his wife Michelle, his son Jason, (from a previous marriage), his daughter, Lauren, and daughter Renee, who was barely a teen at the time.
“I didn’t tell them right away. My younger daughter, Renee, I just told her I had some stomach problems. It’s just one of those things where you try to figure out how to tell them,” said Annaldo.
Immediate surgery was necessary at Dana-Farber in Boston, one of the most respected cancer centers on earth.
“They removed 85 percent of my colon. I had seven other polyps that weren’t cancerous, but they were there,” he added. “They took out a lot. After that, I healed up.”
Annaldo never stopped moving during this time. He kept doing all kinds of construction work. But he was not out of the woods.
“I was supposed to get on a research program for a new drug. I had a CAT scan and they found it (more cancer) in my liver. That was October 2008,” he said. “I was on some heavy duty chemo for six months and they did a second operation and they removed a section of my liver.”
On the eve of disaster, things turned around. In Spring 2009, Frank Annaldo was given a clean diagnosis.
“They had gotten everything out. They weren’t finding anything in the CAT scans. I actually went back to work, roughly two months after my first operation. I worked for a gentleman at that time as a superintendent. I couldn’t physically do a lot,” he said. “I would go to chemo every two weeks, miss maybe a day or two, but I was actually a boss. I had to get out. I couldn’t sit in the house. I probably lost 50 pounds. They gave me large doses of chemo, but I came through it pretty good.”
Working All the Time
He progressively got stronger.
“I’m not building houses right now, but I’ve been working steadily from that time, interior remodeling, kitchens, I’ve done 160 windows in the last three weeks. I’ve got work until the end of the year. I really haven’t stopped,” said Annaldo.
But the disease he fights is insidious.
“They found a small spot in my lung. It has to be examined again in September. I’ve not overly concerned about it. Dana-Farber has done wonderful things for me.”
Annaldo drives into Boston every three months for blood work, six months for scans. He’ll make fewer visits as he gets closer to the five-year survival mark. But the most recent drive into Boston was to share his story with all of New England and beyond; to 500,000 radio listeners.
“Dr. Mayer called me and just asked if I would do it with him, go on air, and I said, ’I’d do it in a heartbeat. Absolutely,’ ” said Annaldo.
On WEEI, during the Dale Arnold-Michael Holley mid-day show, Annaldo told listeners, “’I’m here. I’m alive because of Dana Farber. I’m doing really well and I can’t say enough about it. [When I was diagnosed] It was a shock. I was set back by it. But I tell you, one of the things that I realized after I left Dr. Mayer’s office, was that I was really comfortable and I wasn’t afraid anymore. I felt like I was in the best hands that I could be in and I never worried about it.”
Get a Colonoscopy
Mayer of Dana-Farber added, “Yes, Frank was found to have colorectal cancer in May of 2007. It’s a very common cancer in the United States, and it’s the second most common cause of cancer death. And the most important message is: It is really preventable. Colonoscopy identifies pre-cancerous lesion polyps. You remove them, you don’t get cancer.
“And, over the last 20 years, the number of people in this country who died of colon cancer has dropped by 13 percent,” said Mayer. “That’s a big number and that is really a step forward. In addition, treatment has become much more effective.
“Frank made it a little challenging for us, because he wasn’t straightforward. He had his original operation. And then, had to have a second operation because we found disease had found its way to another part of his body. And that was all taken care of. He’s had a lot of chemotherapy, and I must say, he looks pretty well. And tolerated it amazingly.”
Annaldo’s family tolerated it amazingly too.
“It does affect you, and the one thing it really affects is my family. More than it affected me, I think it affects the families of people who have cancer,” he said.
Annaldo has some advice for fellow construction workers — do your own digging, starting at age 50.
“Definitely have a colonoscopy when you’re told to. It’s really quick, it’s easy and it could save your life.”
He doesn’t think he’d be alive without it.
“I think 10 years ago, I might not have gotten through it. They’ve made tremendous strides over the years,” said Annaldo. CEG