by Cori Hilsgen
Pat Forte gets by with some help from his friends and sometimes needs a little extra help.
His friends and co-workers recently convinced him to let them hold a benefit for him to help cover medical expenses and to show their support. The benefit was held at the Eagles Club in St. Cloud. The event was attended by many students, staff and other supporters.
Forte’s students worked hard to show him how much they appreciate and value him as a teacher. At the benefit, sixth-grade students sang a song called ‘Hockey Town’ about hockey in his hometown of Eveleth.
Since Forte appreciates quotes, benefit organizers sold bracelets at the benefit inscribed with the quote “When the well runs dry, dig deeper.”
Forte said the recent benefit was unreal.
“So many people put so much of their time into it that it’s overwhelming to think about it,” Forte said.
He said stories he is hearing include first-grade students who made bracelets and sold them door-to-door to raise money and two students who set up a lemonade stand on a weekend to raise money for him.
Forte, 47, was diagnosed with thymic carcinoid cancer on Feb. 28, 2006. He was told there are less than 200 cases of that type of cancer in the world.
Forte is a teacher at Kennedy Community School. He graduated from Bemidji State University in 1989 and has been teaching for 24 years. Nine of those have been at Kennedy where he teaches sixth grade.
Forte said he was admitted to the St. Cloud Hospital in 2006 because of shortness of breath due to an enlarged heart. He was diagnosed with pericarditis effusion, which is fluid around the heart.
After two weeks of treatment and two stays in the hospital, the fluid did not decrease. After further testing, a tumor was discovered.
“The doctor gave me six months to live, due to the size and the location of the tumor, which was above the heart and near major organs,” Forte said.
Forte was referred to the University of Minnesota Hospital. The tumor was diagnosed as a carcinoid tumor.
“In 17 years of practice, the doctor stated he had never seen a carcinoid tumor of this size,” Forte said.
He later learned it was a thymic carcinoid – a very rare tumor. Forte said it was so rare that at the time they did not have any information to share with him.
He had surgery in March 2006 to drain the fluid around his heart caused by the pericarditis. At that time, Forte began taking a new cancer drug called Sutent to try to shrink the tumor so it could be removed.
In August 2006, doctors performed a 12-hour operation during which they removed Forte’s right lung. They replaced the pericardium around his heart and two main veins with Gortex. His major pectoral muscle was removed and reconstructed into his chest and tied off on the bronchus stub left behind from the lung removal. This left live tissue in his chest to help fight infection and to promote healing.
During a follow-up scan in 2009, doctors discovered Forte’s cancer had returned in multiple locations. He has since taken multiple chemotherapy drugs, had 10 rounds of radiation and has had five sessions of cyber-knife radiation.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs the past seven years,” Forte said. “There have been a lot of adjustments not only with living with one lung, but living with cancer, as well as being on chemotherapy. The support I have received from the Kennedy staff and school community is the reason I am still able to teach full time.”
Forte said as crazy as it sounds, having cancer has been a blessing in many ways. He said it’s allowed him to see the absolute best in people.
“They have all pitched in to make my life easier while at the same time it adds one more or several things into their already busy lives,” Forte said.
He said people like Diane Moeller and Patti Imholte have made his life easier; Moeller, by being very flexible with him for scheduling doctor appointments, and Imholte, by always finding ways to do more things to help him. Forte said Imholte always does it with a smile on her face, even though she has a very busy job.
He said his teaching partners, Kris Sowada and Mikey Lucia, continue to adjust and try to make life easier for him.
Lucia covered Forte’s bus duty all year and is the person that walks the sixth-grade students from point A to point B around the school because he is often too tired. Lucia even brings his lunch to his classroom when he is too tired to go downstairs. Forte said Lucia has never complained and often offers to do more to keep him going.
Lucia said Forte enjoys quotes, and so they use them for inspiration.
“A quote that reminds me of Pat is ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” Lucia said. “And something we try to remind each other of each day, ‘This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.’”
Other staff members donated sick days when Forte used all of his so he could attend doctor appointments without having to take time off without pay.
“They give me words of encouragement that I love,” Forte said.
He said students and parents have also been very wonderful. Many have been following his situation since he was first diagnosed. Parents often invite Forte and his 12-year old son, Nico, to meals and family outings.
Forte said the support he is receiving makes it much easier to keep the fight up day in and day out because he knows he’s not fighting the cancer alone.
He wants people to know how appreciative he is for everything they have done for him the past seven years.
“I am just so grateful I teach in such a wonderful community and school,” Forte said.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.