Battling cancer, spate of misfortune

HOLIDAY HILLS – Sitting on a bench at a table, Michael Ghilardi reflects on some of his recent difficulties, as the 61-year-old car salesman doesn’t have much money to go out.

In March, doctors found a half-centimeter spot on his liver. In November, after an attack of pancreatitis, a CAT scan showed that the spot had grown into a tumor that was 2.5 centimeters. Ghilardi was diagnosed with liver cancer.

“The pancreatitis attack that he had put such a strain on his system and his kidneys that he was so weak after the attack that he couldn’t work,” said Greg Thurow, Ghilardi’s cousin.

This isn’t the first time Ghilardi has gone through difficult times.

In December 2008, Ghilardi’s wife, Linda, and her son, Lawrence “Buddy” Jett, died in an automobile accident. Talking about the accident still is difficult and can bring him to tears.

Linda Ghilardi was driving Jett to work, and when they hit a patch of ice on River Road, their Jeep Cherokee started sliding and collided with a garbage truck.

“I miss them a lot,” Ghilardi said.

The cancer diagnosis was just more bad luck.

“To me, it’s really some unforeseen circumstances he’s gone through; I sometimes think if he didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any,” Thurow said. “He got dealt a bad hand of cards. ... He’s gone through enough.”

Because he also has cirrhosis of the liver, Ghilardi needs a transplant, rather than cutting off a portion of the liver that has cancer. However, Ghilardi has yet to be placed on a transplant list.

The 61-year-old is a car salesman in Waukegan, but has been on medical leave since November. The medical leave ends Feb. 23, and he possibly could lose his job and health insurance, Thurow said.

“There’s no guarantee they’ll keep his job after that,” Thurow said. “So we have to be prepared.”

He’s been off work because stress can accelerate the cancer.

Thurow has been helping with Ghilardi’s treatment, helping him get to doctor’s appointments and keeping track of his condition.

“He’s like a brother to me,” Thurow said.

Ghilardi, who has two grown children and three grandchildren, has been going to Loyola University for tests to see how doctors can control and shrink the tumor without chemotherapy, and buy him time before he can qualify for the transplant list.

Ghilardi, who is a Chicago Royal Airs Drum and Bugle Corps alum, is on about five medications.

Thurow, who is a retired Fox Lake police officer, has helped Ghilardi apply for public aid, as well as disability benefits through Social Security.

To see whether he’s approved for public aid will take 90 to 120 days, and Social Security’s response could be in six to 12 weeks. If he’s approved, there’s a five-month waiting list before he potentially could receive $1,000 a month.

“I try to stay upbeat,” Ghilardi said.

Ghilardi was four to five years from retirement. He was active and stayed busy selling cars and playing in local bars. However, arthritis has limited him to three songs a set.

“That was my enjoyment; that was my release. The most exciting thing that I did was play drums,” Ghilardi said.

He’s been nervous as they try to figure out how his cancer will be treated.

“I can’t wait until we get some kind of structure on how we’re going to attack this,” Ghilardi said.


How to help

There will be a fundraiser for Michael Ghilardi at 3 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Dwight House at 35366 N. Route 12 in Ingleside. There will be raffles, 50/50 drawings, food, music, bands, and some open jam time. The benefit will be for utilities, transportation and grocery costs.

“We’re talking about trying to cover some of the things we take for granted,” said Greg Thurow, Ghilardi’s cousin.

There also is a bank account established. Donations may be sent to the Michael Ghilardi Cancer Benefit Fund, at the McHenry Savings Bank Richmond Branch, P.O. Box 143, Richmond, IL 60071.