By Polly Keary, Editor
When Tony Creswell got sick, the response from the Monroe community was overwhelming.
City councilmen exhorted the community to support the family, a bank account was set up, various fundraisers were scheduled and an auction and poker tournament got such a huge turnout people who attended described it as a high school reunion.
Now the father of three, a Class of 1988 Monroe High School grad, is fighting a serious and aggressive brain tumor while his wife Jada juggles parenting and the family’s medical crisis, and when she talks about the massive outpouring of community support, it is invariably through tears.
And as for the community effort to support the family, there is no end in sight.
Tony Creswell is from a family with long roots in Monroe.
He and his brother are both former sports stars; Creswell was on the Husky football team when they went to the Rose Bowl in 1991, and his brother Smiley, owner of Smiley’s Pro Lube in Monroe, went to the Super Bowl as a defensive end for the Patriots after a stint with the Eagles.
Jada grew up in Monroe as well, graduated in 1993, and met Tony at a party. They married and had three children, the two eldest in Chain Lake Elementary.
Tony went on to work as a commercial builder, and Jada worked part time in insurance.
All was well, and the family was financially sound, when earlier this spring, Tony began to have headaches, said Jada.
The headaches were severe at times, but Tony thought perhaps it was due to hours in traffic.
When it got to the point even over the counter pain medication was too much to hold down, he went to the walk-in clinic. At first it seems that muscle relaxers and anti-nausea meds were helping, but then Tony experienced double vision so profound he was barely able to get to work.
So he called Jada and asked her to make him an eye appointment.
“They squeezed him in, but they told him double vision isn’t an eye problem,” said Jada. “They recommended a CT or an MRI.”
Back at the walk-in clinic, Tony got a scan. The news was frightening; he had a large mass in his head. It was five centimeters wide, roughly the size of a lime.
The next day, they saw Tony’s regular doctor. It was April 1. Tony’s doctor shared his electronic records with a Providence neurosurgeon, and two days later, Tony was in surgery.
The news continued to be difficult. Tony had a glioblastoma, a type of tumor that can be hard to treat, as it is comprised of a variety of cell-types, making it hard to address with any one thing.
Also, as those tumors often have tendrils and are in delicate areas of the brain. It’s not usually possible to remove them entirely; 90 percent is considered a success.
The surgeons were able to remove more than 90 percent of the tumor, but then Tony had a stroke.
He was in the hospital for about a month healing and regaining control over his abilities. Two weeks into his recovery, he started chemotherapy and radiation.
Wednesday, he finally was able to come back home.
The community was shocked and moved by Tony’s sudden crisis.
Immediately, friends of the family mobilized.
A mom whose child goes to preschool with the Creswell’s youngest started a website to coordinate meals. Monday through Friday, someone makes dinner and brings it over, and the website has booked volunteers through the end of July.
“It’s helped so much,” said Jada. “People have brought groceries. One day I couldn’t get to the store to get milk, and I got home and there was milk.”
And several of Tony’s classmates organized an auction.
“They put together this auction in two weeks,” said Jada. “It was crazy. It was overwhelming.”
A city council member even mentioned the auction in a regular Tuesday night meeting, exhorting people to attend the May 10 event, which was so busy attendees said it was like a high school reunion.
Another group of supporters, calling themselves “Tony’s Dawg Pack” in honor of his love for his former UW team, set up a GiveForward page, called the Tony Creswell Brain Cancer Fund. They set a goal of raising $10,000 in 90 days. They raised $5,000 in the first two days and Sunday, with 66 days to go, they had cleared $10,692.
Yet another supporter set up a charitable account under Tony’s Dawg Pack at Coastal Community Bank.
Darci’s Dinky Donuts, a Lewis Street espresso and mini donut stand, declared May 13 Tony Creswell and gave all the revenue to the Creswell family.
And more events are in the works. A golf tournament is planned for later in the summer, and a softball tournament is in the works for June.
Another family supporter is running a Facebook page called Tony’s Dawg Pack, where news of Tony’s progress is posted, along with details of coming events, links to his new CaringBridge page, which is a support site for people with serious medical challenges, and lots of messages from the family’s nearly innumerable friends.
Jada said that she remembers helping out with a few similar efforts for other families, making food for a family with a loved one in the hospital or helping out in other ways. But until now, she had no idea what it was like to be on the receiving end.
It’s tough, sometimes, she said.
“You want to think you can do this on your own,” she said. And she had reason to think so; the family had been financially stable and Tony’s benefits were good. But he is an hourly worker, and when he’s out of work, they have to live on savings, as do most people afflicted by a serious illness. So the help has been timely.
At first she started trying to write thank you notes to everyone who had helped. But it quickly became unrealistic.
“There was just more and more of them,” she said.
So she said she wants everyone to know that she deeply appreciates the support that has been sent their way.
“People have been amazing,” she said.