Joe Friscia. A Champion of a Father and Friend. His story, his fight.
TORRINGTON – An individual who personifies what it means to be a great family man, a great friend, a great co-worker and a tremendous supporter of sports on a local level is fighting hard to assure he gets to continue to do so.
Our friend, Joe Friscia, is battling Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer and his family and friends are stepping up in a big way to give back to a man who has given so much to those around him.
If you have ever attended any type of sporting event at Torrington High School, you were probably there with Friscia, who loves his Raiders and supports their efforts at all times.
He has been a great friend to us at LCS as well, always sending encouraging and supporting notes to us. And, of course, he showed up with food to donate when we held a food drive for Friendly Hands Food Bank this past Christmas season at THS.
That is just the kind of guy he is. Doing for others before himself.
Friscia moved to Torrington 13 years ago from the Danbury area with his wife, Leslie, and his two children, Jenn and Jimmy, looking for a place to live that had more of a hometown feel.
“Danbury had gotten so big,” Friscia said. “So many people had migrated to Danbury that it just didn’t have that hometown feeling. There was an ad in the paper for Pleasant View and the title of the ad in the Danbury paper was `Change your lifestyles’ and my wife, Leslie, pointed to the ad and said, `That’s what I want to do.’ So we came up, even though neither one of us had ever been to Torrington before. We came up to Torrington on Valentine’s Day 13 years ago and put a down payment on a house. And the next thing we know, we love it here.”
With two small children, getting them enrolled in one of the many Torrington grammar schools was at the top of the family’s to-do list.
“That was Job 1,” Friscia said. “We visited all the schools. And while all the elementary schools are great, what we liked about Torringford was the way we were treated when we got there and the fact that they were building that new addition. It was a great decision because both kids got a great education.”
It wasn’t long after they moved here that the family decided to spend a night out together at the Connie Donahue Gymnasium in what would become the door that opened the family to a lifetime of friendship.
“When we came to Torrington, we were looking for something to do,” Friscia said. “We had no friends yet. I suggested to Leslie and the kids that we should go watch a high school basketball game. I had remembered that back in Danbury that was a big to-do. We started off sitting on the wrong side of the grandstands. That was the first and last time we did that. We came over to our side, and you can ask Jack McCarthy or the Paniati’s who had the loudest mouth and who did the largest cheering and the first one they would say would be Joe Friscia. That’s how we got involved in the spirit of sports in Torrington.”
His love of sports dates back to as far as he can remember and he got it from the same place his kids would eventually get their love for athletics.
“From my father,” Friscia said. “My father always wanted to play professional baseball but never got the opportunity. My uncle had a tryout with the New York Giants at the time, believe it or not. When we moved to Danbury from Bayside, New York, I was 1 and in 1963 my father was the first president of the Danbury Industrial Softball League. The league became the showcase for softball in Fairfield County. They had maybe six divisions, and back in the day softball was king. Between playing and managing, he amassed 950 victories for this team called Danbury Centerless Grinding. The Grinders they were called. I spent every night at the softball field until I was 18-years-old.”
That time with his father solidified his love for one sport, but more followed.
“That love of softball turned into a love of basketball,” Friscia said. “The only sport I didn’t care for was soccer.”
That has changed a lot as now his son, Jimmy, plays for the Raiders soccer team and scored a big goal in the team’s Opening Day 4-0 win at Holy Cross.
“Soccer is now our favorite sport,” Friscia said with a laugh.
That visit to the THS gym led to so many great things, as being a part of a sports community can do for a family.
“It was the family feeling,” Friscia said. “Going all through the Torrington Youth Soccer program and Torrington Little League softball and baseball for a few years there, the friends you made with the parents and the kids got along so well. It was such a great family feeling. It was like we were all connected. It’s hard to describe the feeling of friendship.”
Many a memorable moment has occurred during the time the Friscia family has been here in Torrington and led to some remarkable moments.
“Marrying Leslie was the smartest move I ever made,” Friscia said. “My proudest moment might have been when Jennifer received this award last year in her senior year at Torrington High School. She received the Lisa Traub Motivational Award after swimming for the Raiders. Jen didn’t have any interest in swimming until her best friend Cara McCarthy convinced her to try out for the swim team and boy she blossomed into some kind of swimmer over her four years. When she received that award that was the proudest moment I think because it was totally unexpected but well deserved.”
Being at Torrington High School events over the years has given Friscia a front row seat at some of the best games and teams that the Raiders have played during that timeframe.
“We were there for Tony Turina and the terrific teams he had, culminating in the championship season (in 2006),” Friscia said. “We were there for Jordan Williams and, of course, for Sarah Royals and her famous four-point play (against rival Holy Cross) and you’ll hear me loud and clear on the YouTube video.”
As 2016 unfolded, the family was on a pretty terrific high.
They were happy, Jennifer was going to be attending Franklin Pierce University in the fall while Jimmy was going into his sophomore year at THS. But life threw a remarkably bad curveball in their direction. One that would change the family’s life, test their spirit and ultimately bring out the best in them and the community they live in.
“It’s a frustrating story,” Friscia said. “It was, of course, the last thing we expected. We found out on July 2 that I had Stage Four Pancreatic Cancer. I was trying to lose some weight so from March to June I was watching my diet. I was changing my lifestyle and I was riding my bicycle and I was dropping pounds. I was so excited about that. So I went to the doctor and I was wondering what my A-1 C (average sugar control level in blood) number is and the doctor said my number was down but we had other issues to worry about now. They had done an ultrasound and saw some spots so they needed me to go get a CAT Scan ASAP. So, of course, that put the fear of God into us.”
From there it was decided he needed to get his gallbladder removed so that the doctors could better examine the spots they had known of. What happened next was again nothing near what they thought was going to happen. The doctors did not give any indication that anything more serious was going on so Friscia figured that the answers were near.
The answer was near, but the answer was not dear at all.
“So I go to the hospital in Danbury because that’s where I was working at the time,” Friscia said. “The doctor comes in and asks what I was there for and I say `I’m here to get my gallbladder out.’ The doctor says that I have bigger problems than that, `You’ve got Stage Four Pancreatic Cancer and we are going to move you into the cancer unit.”’
“So Leslie and I are looking at each other like, `What the heck just happened,”’ Friscia said. “It was like bizarro world. This was Fourth of July weekend so of course they are running a skeleton staff there. Finally on Saturday afternoon the on-call Oncologist, she flies in and shakes my hand, tells us you’re never going to see me again because I’m out of New Milford but you’ve got Stage Four Pancreatic Cancer and there is no cure for it. You can do chemo to hopefully shrink it and slow it down but that’s pretty much it.”
Not the best bedside manner by any means. Give a couple the most devastating news that they could possibly receive in a casual manner and then take off? Awful.
From there, Leslie and Joe went home and got to work attacking this beast in the way you would expect a great family to do.
There is no give-up in the Friscia house.
Testing showed the cancer had spread from his pancreas to his liver and the best course of action was to start rounds of Chemotherapy.
“I have done three treatments so far,” Friscia said. “The fourth one unfortunately is this Wednesday, just before the fundraiser on Thursday night. So I’ll be there with the side bag of chemo that I have to take. So that’s a little bit of a damper, but we’re going to make the best of it.”
As if that diagnosis wasn’t bad enough, the family took another shot over the past month.
“I lost my job after the second chemo treatment,” Friscia said. “It was taking me longer to recover from the treatments so they told me I might be better off going on disability because we need you here full-time. So they let me go at work. But looking back now, it was the right thing to do because I get laid up for seven to 10 days afterwards because it’s so debilitating.”
When he was let go from work, his medical benefits went out the door as well. But after Leslie went full-time at her job, the family was able to get the coverage they needed without missing a beat.
Each chemo treatment cost is ridiculous – $11,000 per treatment. A shot to build up his white blood cells is an astounding $29,000 per injection, which Friscia receives every other week.
One thing about great communities like the one we have here in Torrington is that when one of their own, especially one who has given so much back to his community, is in trouble they spring into action.
How has the reaction in T-Town been?
“Absolutely, unequivocally phenomenal,” Friscia said. “You know, we have friends like the McCarthy’s and the Paniati’s like I mentioned, all these friends that we have known for 13 years now. As soon as they got word of my condition, they jumped into action. They were bringing food over, they started a meal drive. People were mailing us cards and the monetary donations have been phenomenal.”
Chemotherapy treatments can often leave the patient too sick to eat or increase sensitivity to certain foods. A food drive can help the family determine what might work for food that particular day.
“The community here in Torrington has been unbelievable,” Friscia said. “Somebody would say, `Hey we are having a fundraiser for you’ and Leslie and I would say, `No, that’s OK don’t.’ But they would tell me it was already set to go, they already had a committee and had a meeting and the posters were going up around the community.”
The Friscia children have been dealt a blow as well. That’s dad. That’s their father. How have they handled it?
“Both Jennifer and Jimmy are doing great,” Friscia said. “At first I was worried that they might have meltdowns but they are mature enough to understand. They know that we are going to fight this and we’re going to give it a battle like it’s never seen before. So they are already in the frame of mind that we are going to fight, fight, fight. Let the chips fall where they may.”
Jen Friscia put her own dreams on hold to be there when her family needed her.
“Jennifer has deferred from going to Franklin Pierce in September,” Friscia said. “She got a great scholarship opportunity from Franklin Pierce and it was going to be a great college career. But when we got news of this she deferred her first year and Franklin Pierce worked wonderfully with us. They gave us all the money back from the first semester and held her spot for next year with all the scholarships for next year. She has been phenomenal with shuttling Jimmy back and forth with soccer, running errands for Leslie and while I’m at the Cancer Center with Leslie she’s taking care of everything at home. I’m really proud of her. She really grew up fast in no time. Jimmy has been helping me around the yard, never complaining about anything. It’s so nice to walk into the house and see this done and that done. They have been really, really great.”
The woman that has been by his side the entire time is the glue that keeps the fight and fire alive in her husband.
“Through it all, my wife Leslie has been a rock,” Friscia said. “Without her, forget about it. We would have cashed in our chips. She’s bound and determined to have me walk Jennifer down the aisle when the day may come.”
On Thursday night at Chatterley’s Banquet Facility in Torrington, that fundraiser will be held from 5-9 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available at the door.
Over 60 raffle or silent auction items will be up for grabs as the Torrington community looks to make sure a family that has taken care of them is taken care of themselves.
Joe Friscia is a champion in the truest sense of the word.
The fight is not over, not by any means.