NAUGATUCK — A Naugatuck woman will be going on a long-awaited vacation thanks to the help of an area nonprofit organization.
Stacey Aresta, 42, was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in September 2013.
“I did my self exams and had nothing showing to me I had breast cancer,” said Aresta, who is married with three children. “The real pain was down in my liver. I was having pain and it was difficult to breathe.”
Metastatic means the cancer had already spread to other parts of her body. She has four tumors on her breasts and six tumors in her liver.
“There were so many tumors there was no way to operate. The tumors were far too large to operate,” Aresta said.
Aresta said once the cancer becomes metastatic there is no cure and the five-year survival rate is 22 percent. However, she is participating in a clinical trial for a drug that she said is helping.
“I still have cancer. I will never not have it, but the tumors have reduced to one-third of their original size,” Aresta said.
After learning of the cancer, Aresta feared her dream family vacation would never be realized. She’s always wanted to hike in the Grand Canyon with her husband, Mark, and three children, Trevor, 15, Teresa, 13, and Elizabeth, 8.
That is where Treasured Time, a Seymour-based nonprofit organization, stepped in to help.
The organization’s mission is to grant the wishes of parents with life-threatening illnesses who want to create a lasting memory with their children.
Treasured Time Founder and CEO Suzanne Major said she came up with the idea about a year ago when she could not find a similar organization to help one of her friends.
“I realized there was a need to help these families. They are going through emotional and financial strain. I wanted to create a memory for families,” Major said.
Aresta said she heard of the organization from one of her friends, who Treasured Time recently sent on a vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida.
“I saw pictures of her enjoying time with her little boy. I was just thinking she got to spend that extra time with her little boy and have those memories,” Aresta said.
Major said the organization is helping to turn Aresta’s dream vacation into a reality.
“She wanted to go to the Grand Canyon and we wanted to help make this wish come true,” Major said.
Aresta said she hopes to leave for the vacation in October.
Major expects the trip for the Aresta family to cost approximately $7,500. The fledging organization is working on raising money for the trip as well as another vacation for a different family, all while trying to build itself up.
Major said she would like to help all the families who apply right now, but the organization is unable to do that at this time.
“Unfortunately we can’t help everybody because we are not financially there yet,” Major said. “We, as an organization, need help. Families are starting to come in, but we can’t fundraise enough to cover the costs.”
Major said the organization can take donations of cash or airline miles through its website, treasuredtime.org.
While Aresta may not be able to do all the hiking in the Grand Canyon she had originally hoped when she was healthy, she plans to make the most out of the vacation.
“My energy is lower than it was before. We are hoping to visit the Grand Canyon and take the [Glen Canyon Dam] tour,” Aresta said. “I only have so much strength. I’m hoping at least to have that memory.”
Though Aresta has wanted to take this trip for a long time, she was waiting until Elizabeth was old enough to remember the trip. Elizabeth turned 8 this month.
“I want her to be able to appreciate the trip and be able to explore,” Aresta said.
In addition to preparing for her trip, Aresta is also trying to raise awareness about metastatic breast cancer.
“Everybody does this fundraising for breast cancer and it’s great for stage zero to three. The only way you won’t survive is if it doesn’t turn metastatic,” Aresta said.
Aresta said there is less funding for metastatic breast cancer.
“There is a 30 for 30 campaign going on. Thirty percent of us have metastatic breast cancer and are asking for 30 percent of the funding to go towards metastatic research,” Aresta said.
As she looks forward to the trip, Aresta continues to battle her cancer and lives her life one day at a time.
“Most people don’t realize what [metastatic breast cancer] is. They ask when you are you going to finish treatment. The answer is never. I will always be going to treatment,” Aresta said. “I don’t have the energy I used to have, but I’m here, I’m with my children. To me that’s the most important thing.”
Treasured Time has two upcoming fundraisers to raise money for the Aresta family’s trip as well as future trips.
The organization is planning a casino bus trip to Mohegan Sun on Oct. 18. The cost is $50 and includes a $15 food and beverage voucher and a $15 bet voucher. The organization’s second annual Holiday Shopping Extravaganza is Nov. 20 in Seymour. Tickets are $5 and include access to more than 50 vendors and a raffle.
For more information, call Jenn Moffat at (203) 446-1068.