La Salle Alumni and Horse-Owner Battling Cancer Looks Forward to His Birthday Benefit This Afternoon

Several friends and family have organized a benefit for Gino Buccola's birthday taking place today at Santa Anita Park to help the 24-year-old who was diagnosed with cancer last October without health insurance

By Justin Chapman, Sierra Madre Patch, 3/23/2011

Although Gino Buccola has been struggling with an unfortunate tragedy since October 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 for his 24th birthday, which will take place today at Santa Anita Park racetrack, 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.
The main organizer of Buccola's birthday benefit, Krissie Carl, met him through Facebook after TVG Network followed the story of two of her friends who passed away from leukemia last year. Carl's parents own horses at Emerald Bound in Washington. Buccola's and Carl's passion for horses, and their shared experience of dealing so closely with cancer, made them instant friends after TVG Network got them in contact with each other.
"In January, during a hospital visit, I proposed an idea for a fundraiser on his birthday," said Carl. "He liked it and said go ahead and do whatever you want. The event is open to the public and I'm expecting about 200 people to attend. However, Gino's medical bills are in the 100's of 1,000's, so I don't expect to raise a lot of money tomorrow, but I'm hoping to get him a little bit of pocket change for his medical bills."
The in February . Carl said that each round of chemotherapy costs around $50,000. 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.
Buccola 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."
 "(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.
"Gino has a personality of gold," said Carl. "He sees no wrong in anybody and I've never heard him speak a bad word about anybody. In my heart that's an angel on earth. In seeing the good in Gino's eyes, I'm hoping other people will see that and help him out, because he's such an amazing guy."
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 horse that is currently is Arizona preparing for its first race. The 5th race today will be dedicated to Buccola.
Carl and Buccola are very excited about his birthday benefit, which is open to the public and 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 the Frontrunner on the 5th floor with a $10 cover. All proceeds from this event will benefit Buccola's medical bills fund.