Tanya Maresca is hoping for a fairytale ending to her love story, but right now life doesn’t seem to be cooperating.
After Tanya was diagnosed with a heart condition and then Lyme Disease last year, Tanya’s husband of 12 years had a seizure on May 22. Five days later, the family’s lives were turned upside down.
Phil, 37, had been having headaches for a few weeks prior to the seizure but shrugged it off. The Maresca’s kids, 12-year-old Giovanni and 15-year-old Philip, were also home when their dad had the seizure.
“It was horrible,” said Tanya. “My youngest saw the entire thing and it was really scary.”
Tanya called 911 and Phil was admitted to the neurological floor at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where a scan revealed a mass on his brain. The next day, a surgeon told the family Phil would need surgery to remove a tumor. Five days after the seizure, doctors diagnosed Phil with stage four glioblastoma (GBM), an incurable brain cancer, and projected he could live 22 months with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Once the reality began to set in, Tanya started to research the cancer. She was looking for ways to help her husband be more comfortable and, she hoped, give him more time with her and their family.
“There are some all-natural spices and some are supposed to be cancer cell blockers and we’ve done research. We’ve incorporated them into his diet and they seem to help,” she said. “We’ve also looked up some information on treatment in Mexico. No two GBMs are the same and there, the treatment is based on blood type and DNA. They have people who have lived five or six years pain-free with pancreatic cancer.”
Job Loss Adds Stress
While absorbing the shock of her husband’s diagnosis and learning to care for him, Tanya was let go from her job at a women’s clothing store. The financial strain on the family tightened.
Phil, who was a truck driver, had not yet accrued enough benefits to claim disability, though an attorney has volunteered services to help the family try to gain the benefits Phil chose not to use when he hurt his back at work in 2006.
On top of the financial and emotional worries, there are all of the other responsibilities that come with running a household and looking ahead at what they’ll need to get through the various stages of Phil’s illness, including an automatic wheelchair, ramp for their car and a ramp to make their home accessible. Much of the cost will fall on the Marescas as insurance does not cover all of the expenses.
Tanya is grateful to her family, which has helped with maintenance at their home, but there are some things they just can’t do alone. Phil had planned to take down a large tree that is hanging over their house this summer, but his diagnosis pushed that plan aside.
“We’re trying to figure out how to get that tree down,” said Tanya. “I am going to call the town to see if there’s anything they can do to help, but I haven’t had the time. I’m so busy being by his side, it’s a constant job. It’s tough.”
‘Best Friends First’
Tanya’s time is spent caring for Phil, who has been in and out of the hospital over the past five months. Despite the recent hardships, the couple has managed to focus on their relationship and their family, spending as much time together as possible.
On Sept. 17, Tanya and Phil renewed their wedding vows even though he had just been in the hospital and had lost 30 pounds in the month prior.
“He refused to cancel,” said Tanya, who celebrated the day with their sons in the ceremony and a small group of friends and family.
While the couple has been married for 12 years, their love story started long before the day they got married. Tanya, who grew up in North Haven, was going to Wharton Brook Park in Wallingford for her 15th birthday on July 13, 1990 where she met her friend Mike Maresca. Mike brought along his brother–Phil–who grew up in Branford, and the rest is history.
“We’ve been together since we were 14–that’s 21 years together,” said Tanya. “We bought our first brand new car together, we had our first apartment together.”
When asked about the secret to their long-lasting relationship, which has only grown stronger in the face of adversity, Tanya gave a simple answer: “My husband and I are best friends first.”
Tanya said spending time together is key. When she was pregnant with her first child, Tanya and Phil made a deal with her parents: they would take the kids one weekend a month so Tanya and Phil could have time to focus on their relationship.
“We’ve done that for the last 15 years,” said Tanya. “You have to put each other first, whether it’s just cooking dinner at home, spending time at Mystic or Block Island, taking a walk on the Branford shore holding hands or having Sunday dinners with the family. One of the biggest things we’ve always done is fall asleep holding hands -- and we still do. It’s been a rule.”
Tanya was glad to say they were able to make it back to Block Island -- one of their favorite places -- in June after Phil’s surgery and before he started treatments. As a family, the Marescas enjoyed camping, hiking and other outdoor activities, which have been hard to give up.
“It’s tough on the kids because we used to be on the go doing stuff together all weekend and now some days he can’t even get up,” she said. “It’s been even tougher for him because he’s a man’s man and now we need people to help take care of us.”
A Strong Support System
Luckily, there are plenty of people who have been able to help, for which the family is truly grateful. The boys’ soccer team, which Philip is a member of, is in the midst of a . Team members are collecting pledges for shots on goal throughout the season with help from team parents Deb Farat and Deanna Juhasz.
Tanya also thanks Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker for his support and for helping her children receive the proper counseling. Phil and Tanya’s families in the area have also stepped up to help around the house and with the kids, including her parents Roger and Joleen, who live in East Haven, along with Tanya’s brother Timothy and his wife Michelle, and Phil’s brother Mike and his wife Denise; all of whom are from North Haven.
“We’ve sent our thanks to the soccer team, including Deb and Deanna,” said Tanya. “We’re all very appreciative of everything everyone is doing to help us.”
Treasuring Every Moment
For now, Tanya and her family are taking things one day at a time and appreciating the time they have together. “We don’t know if we have a day or 22 months,” she said.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “I’m thankful that he didn’t just end up with paralysis and lose his memory like most people do, which is the sweet part. But the bitter part is they told us 22 months and only 1-in-4 will make it past that. We’re hoping to be that 1-in-4.”
The Maresca Family Benefit Fund has been set up at TD Bank in North Branford. Anyone who would like to send in a donation can visit the bank or mail it to:
The Maresca Family Benefit Fund
c/o TD Bank
1289 Foxon Road
North Branford, CT 06471