Co-workers and Vineyarders rally around maternity nurse

As Carla Furtaw battles cancer, the Island makes her wish of a Disney Christmas with her family come true.

A photo of Carla Furtaw with her friends from the GoFundMe page set up to help her with medical expenses and a family trip to Florida. —Courtesy GoFundMe

Carla Furtaw left Martha’s Vineyard Friday in search of the latest treatment in what’s been a 26-year battle with ovarian cancer.

She left with a boost from her friends, family, and colleagues in the maternity department at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, who established a GoFundMe page aimed at making her journey to Florida, where she will undergo radiation treatment, a little brighter. She’ll have to be away from her family for 8 to 10 weeks, but the funds raised will be used to offset her medical expenses and to allow her family to travel to Florida during the Christmas holiday to go with her to Disney World.

“She’s been fighting cancer longer than she’s been without it,” her friend and colleague Joyce Capobianco said. “What inspired us is that she’s so tired of the battle. This is meant to give her a boost, to make what is happening to her a positive experience — if that’s even possible.”

Ms. Furtaw has undergone chemotherapy and surgery, but recently those treatments have not been enough to keep her cancer at bay. “She made a really tough decision to try radiation, which means being away from her family,” Ms. Capobianco said.

The GoFundMe page went up with a goal of raising $15,000. Within three days, the goal had been surpassed, and funds were still coming in.

“I’m just completely overwhelmed,” Ms. Furtaw said Monday, shortly after arriving in Florida where she will undergo treatment at the Moffitt Cancer Treatment Center in Tampa. Her friend has taken time away from work to drive her to and from appointments. She fought allowing the fundraising for a long time, but finally gave in to her friends, who wanted to do something to help.

The GoFundMe page was set up by another of Ms. Furtaw’s colleagues, Rachel Paciello Neville. It tells the story of Ms. Furtaw’s journey. She is married to Steve and has two children, Brad, 26, and Baylee, 12.

The page chronicle’s Ms. Furtaw’s courageous journey, which has included raising her family, working on the night shift, and going back to school to earn her nursing degree. “Carla’s faith, grace and determination have guided her through this extraordinary journey, and now we, as a community of family and friends, need to support Carla and her family in this next chapter on that journey,” the page states.

The page also talks about Ms. Furtaw’s work as a maternity nurse and the bond she’s made with her co-workers.
“We are Carla’s work family, and this is our way of helping ease her mind and spirit during a very difficult time of her survival journey,” the page states. “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!”

Once again the generosity of Vineyarders is shining through, both in money and spirit. “What she’s getting out of this is the love and support that’s coming from the community, which is far surpassing anything we could have expected,” Ms. Capobianco said.

Ms. Furtaw, who has battled cancer since 1990, said her pain subsided long enough for her to enjoy Thanksgiving with her family and to make the journey to Florida. During a conversation on Monday, she said the pain has returned, and she is looking forward to starting her treatments next week.

“People say to me, ‘You look too good to be going through what you’re going through,” she said. “I have been blessed with not looking sick for the most part in my life, through the grace of God.”

Despite her long journey, Ms. Furtaw’s faith remains strong. “There’s an enemy that is alive and well on this earth. He wants to shake my faith,” she said. “I say, ‘You can keep trying, pal, but you’re not going to take my faith away from Eternal Father.’”

She acknowledges sometimes getting discouraged, but does her best to remember what she calls the angels that have guided her along the way — like her doctor, Dr. Susan Zweizig at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, whom she found after she was diagnosed with cancer again in 1995, after being in remission.

“She’s another angel put in my path,” she said. “There’s so much evidence that God has my back.”

Ms. Furtaw told The Times it is her family, including her husband of 29 years, that give her the strength to continue the fight. “My amazing husband of 29 years has been an incredible support when so other men would have left,” she said. “He has ridden out the storm with me the whole entire way, and is absolutely amazing.”

Ms. Furtaw could seek radiation treatment in Massachusetts, but that would either mean daily boat rides and commutes into the city, or finding someone to stay with off-Island, where she’d still have to battle cold and snow. Being able to stay with her friend in Florida and not worry about traffic or weather is a blessing, she said.

And now knowing that her family will join her for the holidays is filling her with comfort. “It’s all about making good memories with my family, instead of the hustle and bustle of life,” she said. “We rented an RV in August and went on a road trip with the kids.”

That journey took them to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and was a trip that created some of those memories. She’s hoping to make more later this month.

Ms. Furtaw knows that cancer is relentless, and that the longer she survives the more difficult it becomes to fight it. “The reality of this disease is that it’s only going to go on for so long,” she said. “I’m hoping and praying this radiation will give me relief for a while, if not indefinitely.”

She has 185 individual donors and counting on a GoFundMe page who are pulling for that same thing. “I appreciate it all. Not just the fund, but it’s all the comments that are left behind. There’s unbelievable love and support,” she said. “It’s always nicer to be on the other side doing the helping. To sit back and have to receive help is humbling and tough.”

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