Horse-Owner Battling Cancer Looks Forward to Saturday Benefit Concert

Gino Buccola, a 23-year-old Santa Anita Park regular, was diagnosed with cancer last October without health insurance

By Justin Chapman, Arcadia Patch, 2/26/2011

Although Gino Buccola has been struggling with an unfortunate tragedy since Oct. 22 when he was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that grew from a tumor on his neck, he has received nothing but undying support from family, co-workers, former classmates at , and friends, some of whom have organized a benefit art concert, which will take place Saturday night, to raise money for his mounting medical bills.

Buccola, who spent weeks in and out of the hospital at his own expense, got a job last February as a production assistant at TVG Network, one of the largest horse racing television networks that is headquartered in Santa Monica. His career goal is to be a horse race analyst on television.

But since he worked part-time he never received health insurance benefits from that company. He is now on his parent's health insurance but that was finalized after the surgery, diagnosis, and treatment.

He told Patch that "there's no retroactive coverage" since his diagnosis and treatment happened before he got on his parent's health insurance. "I didn't have insurance for ten months, and that was the worst part. That's when I went through all the chemo and treatments, during that short period."

According to Buccola's sister, Chanel, he has undergone five rounds of chemotherapy at City of Hope in Duarte, but his doctors have temporarily stopped treatment because they are optimistic about his progress. In the meantime, unfortunately, Buccola and his family have to pay for that expensive treatment out of their own pockets.

"(His specific cancer) is very curable and the doctors are very optimistic about it," Chanel told Patch. "They really like how he's responding to the treatment at the moment, and he's looking good right now. Although he still has little nodes inside that they still have to clear up, the neck tumor has decreased massively."

Buccola was living in an apartment in Pasadena until he was diagnosed, at which point he moved back in with his family in Temple City. He has also slowly started getting back to work in the past couple weeks, and tries to maintain a positive attitude.

"He knew he had to have a positive attitude to get through this," said Chanel. "He's been getting a lot of support from lots of different people, from friends to La Salle classmates to co-workers at the racetrack. The support has really boosted his spirits. He definitely has his tough days but he tries to maintain a positive attitude."

Indeed, despite the horrific series of events that Buccola has had to endure the past few months, he acknowledges that the situation is getting better.

"The first month was the worst," he said. "After that I thought it was going to be bad. I lost my hair, I lost my car, I lost my apartment. Not being able to do every day activities, that was rough. But as it goes on it's been getting better. My doctors say things are getting better and I've met a whole bunch of people who have supported me and held fundraisers to help me."

The type of cancer that Buccola developed, Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma, at such a young age can most definitely be fatal if not treated properly. The cancer cells move very rapidly, as they did with Buccola, which he described as "very very scary." However, he feels he has received as much as support as can be expected and he's overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to him to offer a helping hand.

"I'm absolutely getting the support I need (emotionally and psychologically)," he said. "This is the third or fourth fundraiser they've had for me. My parents always made sure someone stayed the night with me when I was in the hospital, and my girlfriend has also been very supportive."

Buccola's ultimate passion, however, is horse racing. Since mid-January he has held partial ownership of a horse that the main owner, Mark Verge, and its trainer, Doug O'Neill, decided to name after him in early January: "Fight on Gino," a three-year-old Gelding out of Moscow Ballet will be ready to race at Santa Anita Park in a couple of weeks, according to Buccola.

Jenny Luna, a former classmate of Buccola's who performed in and worked on plays with him in La Salle's theatre department, helped organize Saturday's benefit concert.

"The goal of the benefit is to raise money for Gino, but it's also a community awareness event," said Luna. "We're trying to make it as cool and fun as possible, but also very La Salle-based, especially people who know Gino, so that we can create awareness of his condition and so people can start talking and maybe go to other events. We just want to raise money for him and his family because his situation sucks. And we want him alive."

Luna expects a good-sized crowd at Saturday's benefit and hopes it will be a big success. There has been a lot of outreach to the La Salle community to gather support for this important event. Most of the art that will be auctioned off was donated by students, faculty, and staff from La Salle. Luna said that the theatre department has been instrumental in making this event possible.

"The theatre department is really what's making this whole thing happen," she said. "They've donated money, space, lighting, and food."

The benefit concert takes place Saturday from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the St. James Methodist Church, and will include performances from Nick Guarna and Joey Cleveland, Adam Barnes, Jenny Luna, Sam Broderick, and Eddie Trager and Brad Steele, among others. There will be a $5 cover charge and organizers will be accepting donations and auctioning off art pieces and photo prints from Barnes, Jessica Luna, Alyssa Stefek, and more. Food and drinks will also be available for purchase. Any artists of all stripes are welcome to participate in the event. All proceeds will benefit Buccola's medical bills fund.

Then on March 24 another benefit is being held to celebrate Buccola's 24th birthday. The party and fundraiser will take place at Santa Anita Park from 1 to 5 p.m. There will be a cost of $10.50 per person for admission, parking and a race program. The party will be held at on the 5th floor with a $10 cover. All proceeds from this event will also benefit Buccola's fund.