Fundraiser for former editor-in-chief Christy Lorio’s Cancer Costs


Photo provided by Christy Lorio.

Christy Lorio is a long-time University of New Orleans student, now in the graduate department of the Creative Writing Workshop for nonfiction, and a former Editor-in-Chief of the school’s Driftwood newspaper. While in Cork, Ireland as part of her graduate assistantship with the study abroad program, she found out she had brain and colon cancer.

On Sunday, Sept. 30 from 6 to 9 p.m., the fundraiser “Craic for Christy” will be held to help support Lorio through this difficult experience. It will be at the Auction House Market at 801 Magazine St. Food will be provided by Dona Pizza, Tava Indian Street Food, Fly Right Galaxy, Freret Beer Room and Elysian Seafood. Artwork by Brent Houzenga, Marshall Blevins and Lorio will be available for purchase, and all proceeds go to [Lorio’s] cancer care. A special auction for gift cards will round out the event.

E: Erinn Beth Langille, Driftwood News Editor

C: Christy Lorio

E: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

C: I’m from the New Orleans area. I grew up in Marrero and I’ve lived uptown for a collective 10 years. Like many people born and raised in this area, I’m fiercely proud of having grown up here, especially after living in Arizona for three years after Hurricane Katrina. The adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” certainly rang true for me during my time in the desert.

My grandparents on my dad’s side were both Cajun. My sister and I have been working on our family tree for several years and were able to trace my paternal grandfather’s side of the family back to France that side of the family has been in Louisiana since before the Louisiana purchase. Unfortunately, our rich Cajun heritage comes with health problems. According to Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs, Louisiana has the third-highest mortality rate for colorectal cancers in the country, which is partially due to people of Cajun descent being more at risk for colorectal cancer, possibly in part [due] to genetic diseases.

My college career has been affected by cancer several times. I’ve been a student at UNO off and on since 1999. I took a semester off in 2001 after my dad died of colon cancer, then dropped out in 2003 when my paternal grandmother died of pancreatic cancer. I came back to UNO in 2013 and earned two bachelor’s degrees in English and Film & Theatre in 2015. I served as Editor-in-Chief for Driftwood during the 2014-2015 academic year, which led to a year-long fellowship with The Times-Picayune. Prior to returning to school, I had worked as a retail manager for eight years while pursuing a freelance writing career when I graduated. Once my fellowship ended, I freelanced for a few months before starting the CWW program at UNO for creative nonfiction. I am currently a second-year student in the program and the [graduate assistant (GA)] for the writing workshops abroad; I had studied in Ireland summer 2015, so I was thrilled when I found out the GA position was opening up right when I entered the program last year. Perfect timing!

E: Can you describe how you came to find out your cancer diagnosis, and what proceeded afterward?

C: As part of my [assistantship], I went to Cork, Ireland this past summer to help run the on-site program. I was there for two days, out walking alone in the city center when I had a seizure. I’ve never had a seizure in my life, so at first I found the sensation oddly curious. I got scared when I realized I was losing control of my body and I lost the ability to speak. Initially thought I was going to throw up, so I found a bench to sit on so I wouldn’t lose my lunch on a passerby. The whole incident lasted about 10 minutes. When it was over, I sat for another 15 minutes to compose myself, then walked a block to get in WiFi range so I could research nearby hospitals. I had a special emergency app on my phone, but I didn’t even think to call Ireland’s version of 911. Instead, I found a taxi and had the driver bring me to a hospital, where I stayed for a week while a team of doctors and nurses ran tests on me. I mentioned my family history of colon cancer, and that’s the only reason the doctor performed a colonoscopy. He said he was “99 percent sure” that I didn’t have colon cancer, so when the results came back positive, I was devastated. (The brain tumor was secondary.) Receiving that information alone in a foreign country was frightening; I thought I might die in Ireland and never see my family again, but thankfully my travel insurance covered an emergency flight home, as well as [a] flight for my husband to come to Ireland and fly back home with me. I arrived back in New Orleans on June 27, had multiple doctor appointments on June 28, and had brain surgery on July 5. I started chemotherapy two weeks before the fall semester started.

E: How has your life been affected? How is the illness affecting your body, mind and spirit? What’s the current prognosis?

C: My cancer diagnosis has consumed every aspect of my life. Not to downplay brain surgery, but the brain tumor was not as big of a deal as the colon cancer diagnosis. Brain surgery felt like an anomaly, whereas colon cancer is my worst nightmare come to life. It was hard enough going to school at age 21 with a sick dad; being a full-time graduate student with a part-time job while battling a life-threatening illness feels like the equivalent of climbing a mountain. Still, I try to look at the bright side; my oncologist told me my team at Ochsner can cure me, a word I’m sure they don’t just throw around. Cancer is scary, but I have wonderful people in my life that have made it easier, including several friends that are cancer survivors. I also make a lot of butt jokes. Might as well do something to diffuse the fear of dying, right?

Prior to my diagnosis I was lifting weights and running three times a week. For the past year and a half I focused on my fitness and nutrition. I’ve always been active, but something inside me clicked and I took it to a new level. I’m not a religious person, but I can’t help but think the universe was getting me ready to deal with chemo.

Brain surgery affected my speech, which makes talking in class frustrating, particularly during my evening classes when I’m tired. It’s getting easier and easier to speak but it’s still a chore to talk in class. I try to participate as much as possible.

One of the side effects of the chemo I’m on is that my hands cramp up, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to write sometimes. The side effects go away after a few days, but they can be debilitating. Fortunately, my classes this semester are more discussion-based, so I don’t have to take notes as much as if I were in a lecture-heavy class.

E: There’s a fundraiser on Sept. 30th. Can you describe the goals, participants, location and what an attendee can expect?

C: The fundraiser was actually my brother’s idea. I was very apprehensive about it, mainly because I wasn’t planning on telling anyone except close friends and family about my cancer and I didn’t want to beg people for money when everyone is already inundated with GoFundMe and Kickstarter projects. That said, my brother is a professional cook and I’ve been encouraging him to branch out and do a pop-up for years. So when he approached me to do a pop-up fundraiser on my behalf, I said yes, more out of support for him. Of course the money raised will be nice; it will help pay my insurance deductible and any additional expenses that my health insurance doesn’t cover. Last year, I waited tables two nights a week in addition to my GA job. After Ireland, I quit that gig, so the fundraiser money will help give me a financial boost from those lost wages.

I’ve had some professional or personal involvement with nearly everyone that is lending their talents to the pop-up. I’ve worked with almost all of the food vendors at various restaurant jobs I’ve held. I have two artist friends selling their paintings and I will be selling prints of my own photography. We even have a dance troupe, the Oui Dats, slated to make an appearance. My neighbor is a member of the Oui Dats. We also have a slew of local businesses that have donated gift cards for a raffle. Last I checked, we’re up to $500 in gift cards ranging from tattoo studios, restaurants, clothing stores and yoga classes.