Josephine Formica

Spouses Step into New Roles as Caregivers

Gaetano and Josephine Formica

Gaetano and Josephine Formica

“I’ve always been afraid of the sight of blood,” admitted Josephine Formica of Lake Worth, Florida. “When my son was young, he was bitten by a dog and I couldn’t even clean it for him. I get sick at the sight of blood.”

But people do what they have to do, and Formica learned to tolerate blood, and more. “I’m by no means a nurse these days, but I’ve learned enough now to deal with IVs and change dressings. At first, I said, ‘I can’t do that,’ but of course I could. And I did.”

The patient? Gaetano, her husband of almost 40 years, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009 at the age of 62. With coughing, pain, and fluid buildup as symptoms, plus an exploratory surgery in Miami, he was first told he had adenocarcinoma. But after a doctor in Miami insisted on more tests, the results came back with a diagnosis of mesothelioma. “The doctor told us it was very serious but also told us about the IMP,” she said. “We were ready to pack up and go to Boston right then. Knowing that they might be able to help us was the best news we ever heard.”

Gaetano’s surgery was in May 2010, “a textbook pleurectomy,” she said, “with removal of his diaphragm and the sac around his heart.” While the surgery went well, his recovery has been complicated, including blood clots, recurring infections, and wounds that would not heal.

Though Formica remains her husband’s “chief nurse” in Florida, she gets a lot of support from her family – her son (who survived his childhood dog bite) and daughter, plus her mother and sister. “My children still call every day,” she said. “Their support was the driving force that allowed me to keep going.”

Support, in fact, comes from around the world. The Formicas have met many people in similar circumstances during their stays in Boston for care, both in the hospital and at the Thornton & Naumes House. “We keep in touch with families, including people in Greece who invited us to come to visit,” she said. Support goes both ways, and the Formicas give as well as receive. “We met a couple from Italy – the husband is a cardiac surgeon and his wife, the patient. I helped out as a volunteer translator for them during their medical visits and my husband has continued the friendship he built with the surgeon,” she added.

“The team is like family when you are far from home, and they even make you feel a little bit like you are at home, in a way. They seem to miraculously appear just when you need them. They can get anything done – if we have even the smallest problem, we just mention it and it’s resolved.”

Formica cherishes their relationships with the IMP staff. “The team is like family when you are far from home,” she said, “and they even make you feel a little bit like you are at home, in a way. They seem to miraculously appear just when you need them. They can get anything done – if we have even the smallest problem, we just mention it and it’s resolved. We have not met one person on the IMP team – doctors, nurses, the patient liaison, social worker, chaplains and the house manager, and everyone else – who hasn’t given 100 percent, all the time.”