By Janee Law
“Just to see them all there, it was beautiful. It was like a huge family reunion that I wish we could have been there for,” said John Bongiorno, a former Northport resident who was diagnosed with cancer within weeks of his wife, Michele. The two are now being treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
To help pay for the family’s $4,000 in monthly medical bills, members of the Northport Yacht Club held a fundraiser on Saturday, raising $68,000. More 350 people turned out for the event at St. Philip Neri Parish Center.
“Michele and I were sitting in the hospital room here in Houston and we were looking at it through FaceTime,” said John, 50. “It was just amazing to hear and to feel what was going on in that room and see the number of people in that room.”
The Bongiornos sent a thank-you video that was played at the event.
“It just was an overwhelming success,” said friend Terry Breen, 52, of Northport, who has known the couple for 16 years. “It was a full house at that gym. It was awesome.”
Since the Bongiornos weren’t able to attend the event, their three children were sent to thank everyone for their support. And when 17-year-old Olivia, the eldest, gave a speech, Breen said that “there wasn’t a dry eye” in the room.
“We know that they’re carrying a load with this,” John Bongiorno said. “They had to grow up very quickly…and I think there’s a lot of good happening there as well but they really want their mom and dad at home.”
The couple moved to Fairhope, Alabama, four years ago with their children, including Olivia, John, 15, and Sophia, 12.
Michele Bongiorno, 53, was diagnosed in September with Stage 4 colorectal cancer, which has metastasized to her lungs. John was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in early November.
John Bongiorno said that although both he and Michele are keeping each other positive, the hardest part is being away from their children.
The event had 52 raffle baskets, 16 silent-auction items and three live auction items.
Local vendors also donated food and drinks at the event, including Southdown Marketplace, The Crossroads Café, The Whales Tale and Nina’s Pizzeria.
“Just to have the financial worries off our minds even if it’s for the next year, it’s amazing. That makes life easier,” John Bongiorno said. “I love each and every one of them so much. It was very emotional and very uplifting and we’re so very thankful for them and everything that they’ve done and that’s amazing.”