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    HomeHealthMary-Lou Arruda's brother Tony battles back from stage four cancer

    Mary-Lou Arruda’s brother Tony battles back from stage four cancer

    RAYNHAM — After undergoing three years of chemotherapy, radiation and multiple surgeries that led to severe mobility issues, Raynham farmer Tony Arruda has had his entire life turned upside down.  

    “It’s been a long road and I think we have a very long road still ahead,” said Arruda’s partner of more than 20 years, Brook Berenger-Leite. “He’s got a big heart, he loves animals, but farming is his passion more than anything.”

    “I think the thought of not being able to do that again is a hard pill to swallow,” she said of Arruda, who was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2021.

    The Arruda family has already been through more than its fair share of tragedies.

    On Sept. 8, 1978, Tony’s sister, Mary-Lou Arruda was riding her bicycle near her Raynham home when she was abducted, tied to a tree in Freetown State Forest, and strangled to death when she was just 15 years old.

    It was a case that shocked and defined the town for decades to come.

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    More recently, while Tony was undergoing chemotherapy, his father was killed in a freak accident when a truck fell on him while he was working on it. Then Tony’s mother, Joanne Arruda, died a year later.

    “Sometimes, he’ll ask why so many bad things have happened to his family,” said Brook. “I think [his sister] is always in the back of his mind.”

    But through the hardships, Tony’s friends and the farming community of Raynham have banded together to support him during this difficult time.

    A devastating diagnosis

    In April of 2021, Tony Arruda went in for a colonoscopy, only to find out he had stage four cancer that had metastasized to his liver and lungs.

    According to Brook, Tony went through chemotherapy, radiation, a colon resection, and had what was supposed to be a temporary ileostomy bag, a pouch that collects and stores digestive waste. When things still weren’t improving, doctors decided to do a liver embolization to block or reduce blood flow to the cancer that had spread to his liver.

    “Instead of it being a two-hour procedure, it was six hours,” Brook said. “I got a call after the surgery that he couldn’t feel or move his legs.”

    At first, doctors thought Tony’s immobility was an effect of anesthesia, but quickly discovered it was a spinal stenosis, a compression around the space of the spinal cord as a result of laying on his back for the duration of the surgery.

    After a spinal surgery and a two-week hospitalization, Tony was still immobilized.

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    Loss of livelihood

    The loss of mobility has been especially devastating for Tony, who makes a living as a hay farmer.

    “It’s devastating that out of all the things that could have happened, he lost mobility in his legs. He’s said before the worst thing that could happen to him would be to lose his legs,” Brook said. “He’s a very independent guy. He’s a blacksmith and a farmer — you can’t get any more physical than that. Now he’s just confined to his bed.”

    According to Brook, Tony has made progress, but is still unable to return to the work he loves so much.

    “He went from not being able to move his legs to being able to move 10-feet with a walker,” she said.

    “It’s just horrible. It’s not what we expected when he went in for the operation. To think you’re going in for a two-hour procedure and then to come out of it not able to walk. It’s devastating,” she said.

    Because Brook has been serving as Tony’s caretaker, she also hasn’t been able to go back to work full-time as an occupational therapy assistant.

    “Just going to the grocery store for half an hour I worry about him,” she said. “It’s just been a financial nightmare.”

    The Raynham community steps up

    Tony and Brook have been forced to survive with the loss of both their incomes, but friends and family have been quick to step in to help.

    “His friends built him a ramp for his wheelchair, and they’ve brought over food, fixed our well, delivered firewood and grain, and helped care for our farm animals. He really does have the best friends and the farming community is very tight knit,” Brook said. “His niece, brother, and two sons have also helped out with the farm, but it’s a very time-consuming job.”

    Just paying for basic expenses has become a struggle, Brook said.

    “Now, it’s just a struggle to cover our mortgage, electricity, and food,” she said. “He did apply for disability, but nothing ever happens fast.”

    Gofundme

    In an attempt to help with the financial burden, Brook created a gofundme to raise funds for their family.

    “I pray he will return to [farming] eventually, but for now, I want him to be able to concentrate on his difficult rehabilitation instead of worrying about his finances and responsibilities,” Brook wrote. “It is a slow long recovery with no end date, meaning we don’t know how long or what his full recovery will look like and in the meantime, finances still weigh heavy.”

    So far, the gofundme has raised $5,130 out of its $15,000 goal.

    A long road ahead

    “Tony has been working so hard at therapy and is walking short distances with a walker. He gets winded easily but he never gives up a goal the therapists make for him,” Brook wrote on the gofundme. “They think he is doing well and is improving regardless of his complex medical condition.”

    The next steps, according to Brook, is a liver resection. But the doctors feel Tony needs a break to heal and get stronger before undergoing another major surgery.

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