EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 19, 2012

Community rallies for family facing cancer, foreclosure

LAWRENCE — Add foreclosure to the anguish Tom Sapienza and his dying wife are facing.

Besides Heather’s terminal cancer and the pink slip Sapienza got from the city last month because he refused to return to his $18-an-hour job and leave his wife with visiting nurses, the Sapienzas must now catch up on the mortgage payments they stopped making when Tom Sapienza took an unpaid leave in August after his wife was told her cancer couldn’t be cured.

However, there is some holiday cheer.

Former city Planning Director Mike Sweeney — who, like Tom, was once fired by Lantigua — has established a fund for the Sapienzas and is organizing a benefit to help the couple keep their house and get through Sapienza’s unemployment and his wife’s terminal illness. The event is scheduled for the Relief’s In, a Market Street social club run by firefighters, on Jan. 12.

That comes on top of an outpouring from what Tom Sapienza calls the couple’s “Christmas Elves” — in reality, the dozens of readers who responded to a recent Eagle-Tribune story about Lantigua’s decision to fire Sapienza Nov. 26 rather than extend his leave again.

A Christmas tree they couldn’t otherwise afford went up in their small living room. A small pile of gifts went under it — dropped off by friends and strangers — including a cashmere blanket that his 40-year-old wife shares with her three cats on the couch, which on most days is as far out of bed as she can get. Someone dropped off a vacuum cleaner. Two hospice nurses offered to volunteer time. Fresh baked cookies are on the kitchen counter.

“It’s a little, chubby guy,” Tom Sapienza, 41, said about the 4-foot spruce that twinkles with yellow, red, green and blue lights, which also were donated. “Tilts to one side. But it’s perfect.”

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