By Shereen Siewert
Jim Vercimak and his wife, Teresa Volpe, aren’t used to accepting help. They’re more comfortable offering it.
But now, community members are rallying around the Weston couple, after Volpe’s daughter made public their very private and difficult fight with Vercimak’s terminal illness.
Vercimak, who spent decades serving the community as an Everest Metro Police officer, retired as a patrol captain in late 2011. The couple had already lost a son to a rare childhood illness, which took an enormous emotional and financial toll. They looked forward to the day when Volpe would retire from her job as well, after the couple’s youngest daughter, McKenzie, would graduate from high school.
But their future hopes and dreams were dashed on April 2, 2018, when Vercimak was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer. The cancer had already metastasized to his lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas and bones. It has since spread to his spine and his brain.
He was given less than six months to live.
“Honestly no one can plan for this,” Volpe said. “We both worked full time after Jim retired from the police department to save for McKenzie’s college and our ‘golden years.’ We had no idea the repercussions of a terminal diagnosis.”
Vercimak was approved for immunotheraphy, which gave him the gift of time. But he chose not to undergo aggressive treatments that would undermine the quality of the time he had left. Almost immediately, Volpe left her job at United Healthcare to focus solely on her husband’s comfort, care, and quality of life, becoming her husband’s primary caretaker. They have been living off their retirement, 401K, and savings accounts. They cashed in his life insurance policy to pay medical bills and premiums for their health insurance.
The cost is staggering. Their health insurance, through COBRA, is nearly $2,000 per month with a $6,000 deductible that will increase to $10,000 in January. Jim’s medications cost $300 per month in co payments alone. And that doesn’t include living expenses like mortgage payments and utilities.
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“We had disability insurance, health insurance, 401Ks,” Volpe said. “We had no idea that his health insurance would turn to COBRA on disability. There is no home-care unless you are enrolled in hospice, and no treatment if you are enrolled in hospice. So either you commit to dying, enroll in hospice, quit treatment….or you figure out how you will live with treatment.”
Volpe’s friends say she is the last person who wants to accept help from others. But her daughter, Emily Casteel, took matters into her own hands this week by launching a GoFundMe campaign.
“I know my mother would rather chew her own arm off than ask or accept help from anyone, so I decided to start this on their behalf,” Casteel said. “While my mom puts on a brave face for the rest of us, she is struggling on the inside and worried about the future.”
Casteel, in her GoFundMe posting, said she hopes to bring some light and relief to the next few months of her mother and stepfather’s lives.
“Jim has spent his entire life serving the Weston community as captain of the Everest Metro Police Department, and now its time for his community to rally around him,” Casteel wrote. “Jim wants to live. Lets let him live the rest of his days out, showing him and my mom the amount of support, love, and compassion they have in their corner.”
Volpe, who spends her days caring for her husband around the clock, said the crowdfunding campaign makes her enormously uncomfortable.
“Learning to accept help from our friends is the hardest….we are givers and always have been,” Volpe said.
To read more or to donate, visit the GoFundMe page here.