Lynnfield native Reid Sacco’s memory lives on with the opening of a unique Boston cancer clinic. By Alexandra Pecci // photograph by Patrick Marasco
Reid Sacco managed to cram a lot of life into 20 years.
He was a scholar, a musician, and an athlete. He was in the National Honor Society. He played violin for Marblehead’s Symphony by the Sea Youth Orchestra and tenor saxophone at Lynnfield High School. He co-founded the Lynnfield High School swim team and competed nationally, despite having the degenerative hip disease Legg-Perthes. At 18, with a state record-smashing breaststroke and an acceptance letter from Columbia University, Sacco’s world was wide open.
“Anything he touched turned to gold,” recalls his mother, Lorraine Sacco. “I had the all-American family, everything you could ever dream of.”
But Reid never made it to Columbia. Just weeks before his high school graduation, he was diagnosed with cancer, and two years later, that cancer took his life. Reid’s golden touch, however, never faded. This spring, eight years after his death, the Reid R. Sacco Adolescent & Young Adult Clinic for Cancer and Blood Diseases is opening at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Lorraine remembers wanting to face her son’s diagnosis head-on. “I figured we’d go out [to doctors and hospitals], find out what we’d have to do, do it, and he’d be fine,” she says.
But the Saccos met an unexpected obstacle: Reid’s age. At 18 years old, Sacco wasn’t a child, but he wasn’t quite an adult, either. Despite the advances in treatment for cancers in children and older adults, the options are slimmer for adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancers. In fact, Lorraine notes that the survival rates for this age group (18-39) haven’t changed in more than 30 years.
“There’s this gap,” she says. “We looked at each other and we realized: We were in the gap.”
For two years, Reid fought hard to climb out of that gap, enduring chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, and even getting his leg amputated. But the disease kept surging back, invading his muscles, his lung, his abdomen. On April 16, 2005, Reid lost his battle with cancer. And he wasn’t the only one.
“Every person who he was in the hospital with for two years died,” Lorraine says. “That’s never in the statistics, is it? Not one of those kids lived.”
Determined to do something to change those grim figures, Sacco’s family began working to raise money and awareness for AYA cancers. Just three months after his death, they launched the first annual Reid’s Ride, a fundraising bike-a-thon from Lynnfield High School to Gloucester’s Stage Fort Park that funds AYA research and clinical programs. (The ninth annual ride is July 21.) And now, the Reid R. Sacco AYA Cancer Alliance is supporting the Tuft’s clinic in Reid’s name, the first of its kind in Boston.
“A clinic,” Lorraine says, triumph and determination swelling in her voice. “A physical place that does everything that has been missing. We want to fill the gap. Not one crack.” reidsaccofoundation.org