Joe DiGiovanni has been eating a lot of kale lately.
He's also added walks into his daily routine and is consuming more water. No, these changes are not part of a new health resolution; DiGiovanni, 51, is battling cancer and he needs all the leverage he can get.
Diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in late May, DiGiovanni, a prominent volunteer in Wauwatosa and director of the Tosa Fastpitch softball league, received his first chemotherapy treatment June 17.
His friends and the community have since wrapped their arms around DiGiovanni, creating an online fundraiser through the website "Go Fund Me" to send DiGiovanni and his family — including his wife, Stephanie, and their two children, ages 12 and 16 — on a vacation later this month. As of early August, about $11,500 had been raised by 133 donors, far exceeding the original $8,000 goal.
"Joe's recent, difficult cancer diagnosis has turned his world upside down," the online fundraiser said in its description. "He has been handling it with grace, dignity and (a) fighting spirit. Joe is determined to not let this challenge define him or slow him down. If you know Joe, he will live life to its fullest. We would like to help him do just that by sending him and his beloved family on a dream vacation."
DiGiovanni, technically a resident of Milwaukee, just over the Wauwatosa border, said his family blocked out a week in August around his chemotherapy treatments and will travel to New York City with side trips planned to the Jersey Shore and Philadelphia. DiGiovanni said he mentioned to a friend that his doctor suggested he take family trips this year. It wasn't long before an online fundraiser was launched to make it happen.
Plus, meals from other community members have been rolling through the family's front door.
"It was really touching and the food has been delicious so far," DiGiovanni said.
About the diagnosis
Up until doctors told him he had cancer, DiGiovanni was living a healthy life. He was feeling "just fine" until he experienced pain in his lower back during a work meeting. He visited a physical therapist, then more doctors, and eventually a biopsy confirmed he had prostate cancer.
"It was a really shocking diagnosis for us," he said. "I'm very, very good about going to the doctor. I get my flu shot all the time. Never tried cigarettes."
DiGiovanni will undergo six rounds of chemotherapy — one every three weeks. He spoke to Now Newspapers after his first treatment and reported that he felt good and experienced only a few, minor side effects, but no nausea. His hair has started to fall out from the treatments, so he's picked up the habit of wearing a hat, something new for him.
Moving forward, his outlook is positive.
"What can I do to stay healthy long enough to 'A', experience a good quality of life for many years and 'B', stay healthy enough to wait for medical breakthroughs?"
Profound community service
DiGiovanni, a communications specialist for Marquette University, previously worked as a newspaper editor in Kenosha and has covered professional sports, including the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brewers.
Before taking the job at Marquette about 15 months ago, he owned a company that ran book fairs alongside his wife. DiGiovanni said the job allowed him to put books in the hands of kids and also donate a percentage of sales to charity.
"We raised almost half a million dollars for charities over 11 years," he said. "It was really fun, a great job to have."
DiGiovanni is also heavily involved in the local softball team; he's the founder of the Tosa Shock softball club and director of Tosa Fastpitch, a 24-team recreation league in Wauwatosa that had 260 players in first through ninth grades this year. He coached this year's U12 Tosa Shock team.
Teams have shown support for DiGiovanni during his treatments by writing "Joe Strong" on their arms during games. Tosa Fastpitch Scouts coach Peter Juzenas and Tosa Fastpitch Hornets coach Steve Bartelt dedicated a game to DiGiovanni this year. The players made signs of support and families donated a $100 gift card to a Wauwatosa restaurant to DiGiovanni.
DiGiovanni said the support from the community, family and friends has been "wonderful."
"It really makes you feel good," he said. "It takes away from the 'woe is me.'"
To donate on the Go Fund Me page, visit gofundme.com/thanksjoed.