Salon at 616 holding fundraiser for local woman

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

SOUTH CASCO — Tonya Tibbetts and her Salon at 616 staff believe in “paying it forward.”

Tibbetts has been deeply touched by the fight Julie Meserve has been waging against cancer. She was diagnosed with Stage 1 esophageal cancer following a family camping trip in Rangeley last August.

“It had been months since we had seen Julie (who lives in South Paris and traveled through the area on her way to work) and the kids for hair services. She was so weak when she came to the salon in December. It was difficult for her to move from the waiting area to the shampoo bowl. She fatigues very easily. Her scar, revealed once I laid her back for her washing, looked newly healed and made me want to hold her,” Tibbetts said. “I filled with instant compassion and at the same time found a moment to count my own blessings. Julie did not deserve this.”

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Fundraising Efforts

• Salon at 616 in Casco is organizing a “Pay it Forward” drive this month, collecting business and personal donations. Funds can be sent to: Julie Meserve Benefit, in care of Tonya Tibbetts, P.O. Box 68, South Casco, ME 04077. For more information, call 655-3506. All funds go through the Moss Brook Community Fund at Julie’s church.

• A Silent and Chinese Auction will be held on Monday, April 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Pat’s Pizza in Windham. Pat’s Pizza has generously agreed to donate $2 for every pizza ordered in or take-out during the benefit auction. All auction items are posted on the Julie Meserve Facebook page. New items are posted daily. Businesses interested in contributing should contact Salon at 616 or drop them off at the 616 Roosevelt Trail (Route 302) location.

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While Julie continues on her road to recovery, Tibbetts and her staff are leading fundraising efforts (see box) to assist the Meserve family.

“Mainers are the most generous people on the planet. We have chosen to sponsor and plan an event to help the Meserve family with financial burdens due to this life-threatening illness,” Tibbetts said. “Julie is so kind; a great mother, wife and she loves life! Why would this strike someone like her? Some questions are never answered, but we feel we can be the answer to some prayers for Julie and (her husband) Jeff. We know you (the public) will extend your hands and

join with us to help the cause.”

Choking saved my life

Oftentimes, people discover they suffer from cancer by accident.

Julie and Jeff, along with their children Noah and Arianna, looked forward to a family camping trip to Rangeley in August 2010. They were joined by other family members and friends of their children.

It was pouring rain one night, so the group decided to go to a restaurant instead of tromping in the mud and rain to get dinner.

“We were having a great time,” Julie recalled.

She ordered a salad with steak slices on it.

“I had been having trouble swallowing for a few months before, so Jeff was paying close attention,” she said.

A piece of steak became stuck in Julie’s esophagus.

“I stood up because I couldn’t breathe. Jeff did the Heimlich maneuver, and I could breathe again. The steak was still stuck in there though. We tried different things to get the steak to come up or go down, but it wasn’t budging,” Julie recalled.

Paramedics arrived at the restaurant, and Julie and Jeff decided it would be best to take an ambulance to a hospital in Farmington.

“On the 45-minute ride, I was gagging and coughing trying to get it out. About 20 minutes from the hospital, I felt different and could breathe easier. The steak had finally gone down,” she said.

Following a thorough exam, Julie underwent an upper endoscopy to determine why she had been having trouble swallowing.

“I had the endoscopy done in September and was told there were some questionable cells,” she said.

Julie was sent to an oncologist, and he proceeded with further testing to determine the exact nature of the cells. Tests concluded that Julie had Stage 1 esophageal cancer.

“He explained that this is an aggressive cancer and that we needed to take action. He immediately set up an appointment for me to see a very experienced surgeon for this cancer at The Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. We met her on October 10 and the surgery was scheduled for November 1,” she said. “At this point, I was on an emotional roller coaster. It was happening so fast. I don’t have any of the risk factors for this type of cancer, and I am very young to have it. It wasn’t making sense, but it was happening. I am very thankful to God that they did find it early and could get rid of it with surgery and no chemotherapy or radiation. The prognosis for this cancer, at later stages, is not very good.”

Julie and Jeff prepared their family concerning the upcoming surgery.

“The kids were scared and confused. Jeff was deeply concerned and trying to hold it all together at the same time,” she said

The cancer had spread farther up Julie’s esophagus than the medical staff had thought, which complicated the nine-hour surgery more than it already was. Julie was in the intensive care unit for two days. She remained hospitalized for two weeks.

“I could not have anything to eat or drink. They gave me small sponge swabs to moisten my mouth with cold water, but I couldn’t swallow any of the water. It was very difficult. I was in a lot of pain from the three large incisions and the drains that went through my ribs,” Julie said. “Thank God, my mom was able to stay in a nearby hotel and be with me everyday. She and the nurses took great care of me. Jeff brought the kids down on the weekend. It was wonderful to see them, but very difficult for them to see me that way. I had tubes sticking out of me and I was in a lot of pain that weekend.”

Eventually, Julie was able to walk in the hallways to stimulate circulation and oxygen flow. Finally, the day arrived for Julie to head home.

“I was excited and very nervous because we would now have to tend the feeding tube and the medicines on our own,” she said. “Jeff took the bull by the horns and became super nurse making sure I got my meds and tube feeding on time. It was a blessing to have my sister come help for a few days. After she left, my mom came again. I can’t say enough how thankful I am to all the help from family and friends through all of this.”

People from church brought food. Friends helped Jeff and the kids paint the living room while Julie was in the hospital so she would have a “cheery yellow living room” to recover in.

Over time, Julie made steady progress, from being able to take short walks outdoors to folding laundry and unloading the dishwasher.

“Who would have thought I would look forward to doing those things?” she said. “The kids have been incredible with their attitudes and helpfulness around the house.”

Eventually, Julie’s diet changed for the better. She started off with yogurt, Cream of Wheat and broth before finally being “bumped up” to soft, solid food in late December.

“This meant I could have some of my brother-in-law’s famous squash, mashed potatoes, chocolate cream pie and pumpkin pie! What a nice Christmas present!” she said.

Financially, Julie’s illness has been a huge burden. She has been out of work, and Jeff has had to take time off from his own forestry business to care for Julie and drive her back and forth to Burlington.

“It surely is a trying time, but we are trusting God to guide us through. (We are) so thankful for helpful family and friends,” Julie said. “Each day, I am getting better and stronger. I still have to rest a lot, but I can do laundry and a little cooking and cleaning. I started part-time back to work. It feels good to get out.”

Julie has had her esophagus “stretched” twice, since scar tissue made it very tiny.

“I have to have tiny bites and chew a lot. I noticed a difference in the ease of swallowing after the first stretch and look forward to more improvement after more stretches,” Julie said. “I know this is a process and it will take time to heal completely.”

Meanwhile, Tonya Tibbetts and Salon at 616 staff hope to ease that road to recovery by sponsoring “paying it forward” fundraisers.

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