Rallying around a Batavia family

BRIAN QUINN/DAILY NEWSJosh Smith, a friend of Jeff and Carolyn Houseknecht, places items in the bin at their house Saturday. Smith and other family and friends were helping the Houseknechts clean up as Jeff continues to fight cancer and other health problems.

BATAVIA — If you were out on Garden Drive this afternoon, you may have seen the Dumpster in the front yard of Jeff and Carolyn Houseknecht, and the people coming out of the house with things the Houseknecht family doesn’t need anymore.

This is just one of the ways people have been helping Jeff, who is dealing with terminal cancer among other health problems he has faced over the years. A GoFundMe page has also been drawing donations from the community. As of 3 p.m. today, $24,735 out of a $50,000 goal has been pledged. The site started by Carolyn Houseknecht, is called “Help Jeff Fight Rare Terminal Cancer.”

Carolyn and Jeff, a 1997 Batavia High School graduate, were married in 2006 and moved back to Batavia three years ago. They have two children, Zach, 12, and Lily, 10.

“We wanted to be part of the community here in a small town and he always loved it. I liked everything I had seen about it,” she said.

Carolyn Houseknecht said they opened the Farmers Insurance Agency office in Batavia about a year ago.

As the cleanup went on Saturday, Carolyn Houseknecht said the donations have been excellent.

“A lot of friends from my high school, people I went to college with, teachers of Jeff’s, Jeff’s friends, people that know our families, it’s been a huge, huge help,” she told The Daily News. “You can imagine, as a business owner right now, it’s been tricky to put your whole heart into that (he business) when your family needs you to. It’s really helped us get over the hump as we’ve been going through doctors’ appointments and travel, and just trying to keep afloat while we try to get Jeff the best help he can get.

“A lot of our good friends have been huge in helping us get through everything emotionally and, today, physically, just doing a lot of spring cleaning and a lot of tasks that we just couldn’t get to on our own,” she said. “It’s been a huge help having everyone here for us and all the support we’ve gotten from everyone in the community has been the only good things to come out of this, I think.”

Carolyn Houseknecht said her husband, 41, has struggled for many years with skin lesions.

“Over the past year he was having increasing trouble swallowing. He could not “get up and go” like he was starting to be able to do again in 2018 and 2019,” she wrote on the GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/f/jeff-houseknechts-cancer-battle?qid=b3bbe75f68ae5bd0a095064d715edabb. “He lost interest in a lot of things that he previously enjoyed. Opening the business seemed to help with getting him moving more, but once March 2020 hit, he just couldn’t keep up anymore, even with running the business remotely.”

In January, she wrote, Jeff fell in the driveway on some black ice. About a week later, he went into United Memorial Medical Center because of severe abdominal pain and swelling.

“What they found was that he had lost five units of blood somehow and was severely anemic. After additional tests ... the doctors told him that he had cancer. There were visible lumps in his lungs, one on his liver, and the throat swelling/anemia pointed to cancer in his esophagus,” she wrote.

Carolyn Houseknecht said Jeff is scheduled for a third session of chemotherapy Monday after sessions over the last couple of weeks. The chemotherapy has been done at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center. Dr. Wenjia Wang has been overseeing the chemotherapy there, Carolyn said.

“Unfortunately, his skin lesions are pretty open and raw, and they don’t want to start a chemo regimen until those are healed up more,” she said. “We’re hopeful that on Monday, they’ll be healed up enough, but I don’t know how that’s going to go. Hopefully, chemo Monday, and, if not, the following Monday.”

Carolyn Houseknecht said Jeff is scheduled to see a specialist at Roswell Park on Thursday. His type of cancer is so unique that if anyone has any hope of understanding it better, we want to at least talk to her and understand if there’s any other options in terms of experimental therapies,” she said. “If we can’t beat it completely, if we can just extend his life and keep him here as long as we can ...”

Jeff’s father, Jeff Houseknecht Sr., said he is still in disbelief about his son’s cancer diagnosis.

“More than half his life, he’s had health problems, and this one tops them all. It started with seizures and they went in and diagnosed him with other things,” Houseknecht Sr. said.

Houseknecht Sr. said all his son has wanted to do is be a good dad.

“That’s the type of person he is. Everything is for his family and for his kids. That’s the way I raised him,” he said. “One of the goals is to make it to his 15th anniversary, which is September. I’d like to see him here for his 40th and 50th. He’s got a great wife. His in-laws are a super family.”

The family has stayed with Carolyn’s parents in Webster to be closer to the Wilmot Cancer Center, where the chemo sessions have been administered, Houseknecht Sr. said.

“She (Carolyn) can’t believe how generous people have been. People bring in food and that ... she’s really kind of humbled by the support,” he said. “He’s got a group of friends that areally tight. They’re over there at the house, they’ve got a Dumpster there today.”

Carolyn Houseknecht recommends that people with heartburn, which her husband has had, check with their providers and make sure he or she follows up. She said heartburn can cause esophageal cancer.

“It’s typically one of those things they don’t find until it’s almost too late, in most cases, because there aren’t a lot of symptoms until it’s been pervasive in the body. The screening for it’s painless,” she said.

Men and women can go in and get an endoscopy, she said.

“They just take pictures down your throat. They sedate you a little bit. You don’t have to purge or do anything crazy,” Carolyn said. “They can take pictures and biopsy any tissue they think might be problematic. If you have a history of heartburn, you should absolutely add this to your maintenance regimen. If your provider doesn’t want to do it, keep pushing. It’s one of those things that you can’t reverse the clock.”

Carolyn Houseknecht said if you’re not a smoker or a drinker, but you’re somebody who gets heartburn, then you’re at risk for esophageal cancer.

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