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Politics

Greek-American Father and Daughter Battle Cancer Courageously

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Manolis Hajiantoniou and his 11-year old daughter have surprised doctors with their courage in dealing with terminal pancreatic cancer and a brain tumor, respectively. His wife, Kristen, heroically takes care of both as well as their little two-year old boy, Giannis. They live in East Rutherford, NJ in a rented apartment, without any luxuries, but in absolute and exemplary order and utter cleanliness.
Manolis has a brother in the Dodecanese, who, among other things must take care of their ill mother, while Kristen has no one else besides her mother to rely on, who is suffering from serious health problems herself.
The Bergen County Moms group and local firefighters embraced the family with love and offered gifts on Christmas Eve. The local media didn’t mention any details regarding their place of residence and the family phone is not included in the Bergen County White Pages, so it is hard for someone to locate the family.
THE SEARCH
On December 30, after our Greek edition had already gone to press, with Michalis Kakias’ front page piece “Unbelievable Drama for Greek-American Family,” we decided to move heaven and earth to locate this family.

Each one of our attempts came up empty, because their last name could have many variant spellings and the people we contacted were not relatives. We contacted the pastor of the Fairview community, Father Christos Pappas, but he did not know the family and referred us to the community of Saint George in Clifton and the parishes of Jersey City, but due to the holidays it was not possible to communicate with them.
Having no other option, we started searching Facebook and we located Kristen’s page. We sent a message explaining the reasons for our communication and she responded by writing: “I’m with Manolis in Oncology and then I have an appointment with Maria’s doctor and in the evening as soon as I return we will communicate.”

As the time passed we were becoming more anxious because we wanted to help as much and as soon as possible. Cell phones were checked every other minute.

New Year’s Eve was only 24 hours away, so it was decided to move forward and begin to prepare to visit them bearing gifts and not only with a check from the charity fund of the Ethnikos Kirix Foundation.

We must confess to doubts that we would be able to accomplish everything in time for New Year’s Day and fulfill our mission to convey the love expressed by so many caring Greek-Americans.

While waiting to hear from Kristen, we contacted the owners of Titan Foods and United Brothers Fruit Market’s Costas Mastoras and Tom Kourkoumelis, respectively, and both responded in a heartbeat: “When the National Herald asks, it’s a mandate for us. Come and get whatever you want,” Mastoras said, adding “send us a list so that whatever we offer would be exactly what they need.”

We did make contact with Kristen that night and explained to her the reasons why we wanted to visit them and how willing were the businessmen from the community to help. She was in tears, touching us deeply, when she said: “Every year at this time we would come to Astoria for our Greek shopping. Last year and this year we simply couldn’t.” When I told her to email me a list of the items they used to shop for, she hesitated and said the stores can send whatever they like, but after realizing we would continue to insist she started sending me messages with the supermarket items.

During a conversation, about a different matter, with the president of the St. Demetrios School Board Nick Andriotis, Kristen called and requested the issue with the article. We promised her all of the issues from Christmas on and returned to Andriotis. After apologizing for and explaining the reason he was put on hold, rather than expressing annoyance he said “Bring them the papers they asked for, but give them also an annual subscription to the daily Greek edition,” that he would pay for.

Later in the day it was decided to stop by the newly reopened Lefkos Pyrgos sweet shop. We contacted Julie Pantazis and were pleasantly surprised once more. “I will give them traditional holiday sweets, but I want to also give money. Have your photographer Kosta Bej come by tomorrow morning to pick everything up.”

On the following morning the entire staff was enthused about the visit and the generosity of the Greek business community. One colleague from the advertising department asked about what we were giving and noted that lamb and sausages were missing. Without a second thought she called “International Meat Market,” gave her credit card number and ordered the meats, completing the gamut of Greek fare required for the New Year’s table of our Greek-American friends.

Amalia Kaisaris, TNH’s receptionist, reviewed all of Kristen’s messages and contacted Stavroula Mastoras, wife of the owner of Titan Foods.

Stavroula took the long list and in order to make sure that every last wish of the family would be fulfilled, she took it upon herself to complete the difficult task of searching for and packaging all of the items and then with the help of Kosta Bej they put them in them in boxes.

When TNH Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris learned about Andriotis’ “wise deed,” he ordered for little Maria a subscription to the English language TNH website.

Early in the afternoon, the day before New Year’s Eve we drove off, heading towards East Rutherford New Jersey with our minds on the drama of the Hajiantoniou family.

On our way there, we were coincidentally contacted by the president of the Federation of Sterea Hellas Costas Katsanos and when he learned we were heading to his neighborhood and the reason for our trip, he responded by saying: “Suggest to them to come to the Chit Chat Diner so that we can offer them dinner and if they can’t or they don’t have any means of transportation, we will deliver the meal to them at home.”

When we arrived at the home of the Greek-Americans and started unloading the presents, a number of bystanders were curious and one of them asked if we were moving in.

When they learned what was going on, they cried.

When Kristen and Maria came down, without even knowing who we were they hugged us and wondered: “What did you do? Is all this stuff for us?” “We just don’t believe it; it’s like living in a dream.”

They took some of the items and lead us to their small, second floor apartment, which was devoid of amenities and comfort but it was neat and spotlessly clean.

As soon as Manolis saw us, he ran and hugged us and invited us to sit beside them. While we were giving them the presents from TNH and other members of the community, their tearful faces were lit with joy and they were hugging us as they would hug their own family.

Manolis was sad and pensive, however, but when I gave him Andriotis’ present, his face lit up and he said that he would now have the company of TNH every day.

“Thank you for the presents and love. You cannot imagine how much joy and strength you have given us. With faith in God Maria and I will make it through this, we will come out winners,” Manolis Hajiantoniou said.

FROM THE DODECANSE

Manolis Hajiantoniou hails from Karpathos, but he grew up on Rhodes where he went to school. At the age of 18 he came to the United States and started working in restaurants, and for the last three decades he worked as a cook at the Lyndhurst Diner, in Lyndhurst, NJ.

That’s where he met Kristen who was working as a waitress and they fell in love. Fifteen years ago they decided to live together and eleven years ago they brought Maria into the world. In 2012 and while Kristen was in her first months of her pregnancy, they went to Karpathos where got married.

They returned to their little home full of dreams and hopes and in February 2014 little Giannis was born and everything was running smoothly until the fall.

About month before Christmas 2014 Manolis underwent an operation called lithotripsy whereby kidney stones are broken down and then passed through the body. Three days before Christmas, while working he felt sharp pains and returned home haggard.

“I returned home vomiting and in pain. Kristen took me and we went to the emergency room. They did an ultrasound, but they found nothing suspicious and decided to discharge me. The pain was increasing and my wife insisted and asked for me to both CT scans and MRI, and this is how the pancreatic tumor was diagnosed,” he said.

The doctors concluded that the tumor was half inside and half outside the pancreas, that it had formed several years ago, and was growing very slowly – a very dangerous situation.

“For a year now, I’ve had so many different treatments because the tumor must be shrunk to enable them to remove it, because it the point to which it has developed is very dangerous.

“Every week they run tests on me; a month ago they did a blood transfusion and in the last month there was fluid accumulated around the liver. The chemotherapy that I underwent did not make a difference and they gave me new medication, but I personally believe that with faith in God I will overcome,” Manolis said, who has already lost fifty pounds.

Four months following Manolis’ diagnosis, Maria started suffering from strong headaches. She was admitted to the hospital and underwent surgery, but they did not manage to remove her tumor entirely. She is undergoing therapy and her mother said, “she’s doing better, she goes to school and her performance is better than before.”

She explained that “These past twelve months we went through real hard times. A lot of pain and sadness and agony. We are alone. Manolis’ family is in Dodecanese, while I have nobody else but only my ill mother, so you can understand what we are going through.

Maria was admitted to surgery and stayed in the Intensive Care Unit and at the hospital for seventeen days and I was lucky because during that period Manolis’ condition showed a little improvement and he was able to take care of our little boy Giannis,” she said.

HELP

The family’s needs are growing, the bills continue and the expenses are increasing geometrically because many of the tests and therapies for Manolis and Maria are not covered by their insurance and they are unable to cover their needs and pay the rent.

TNH is calling upon all members of the Greek-American community to offer their gifts of love and support by sending offerings as well as checks payable to: Manolis & Kristen Hajiantoniou, at 236 Park Ave. (2nd floor), East Rutherford, NJ 07073.

 

 

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