Car wash manager battles cancer; business forced to shut down
The Harmar Car Wash was where many local teens got their first job.
It was the “go-to” place for local police officers who wanted to keep their patrol cars spic-and-span.
And it was where manager Andy Kubiak spent nearly seven days a week for at least the past 15 years.
When a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments sidelined Kubiak in late September, car wash owner Vincent “Jim” Siciliano of Oakmont decided to shut down the business this month after more than 50 years of operation.
The closure was “inevitable,” he said, because the business has been struggling for the past couple of years.
But without Kubiak, 52, of Leechburg, whose exhaustive knowledge of the car wash's mechanisms and operations made him an indispensable manager, Siciliano decided to shut the doors earlier than expected.
“It was getting more and more difficult with the price of gasoline,” he said. “If people have $20, they'd rather put it in the gas tank than get their car washed.”
Bill Rusiewicz, 50, of Harrison, who worked at the car wash for 25 years, remembers when hundreds of cars a day would come through.
Though business has been slow, the closure was a surprise for Rusiewicz, one of four employees.
“It just hit me really hard,” he said. “I wasn't happy about that.”
Diagnosis a shock
Hearing his friend Kubiak had cancer was just as much of a shock, he said.
On Sept. 24, doctors diagnosed Kubiak with a grade IV brain tumor known as glioblastoma. It is an aggressive form of brain cancer that usually returns within a year or two.
Kubiak, who had been experiencing headaches on and off for about two weeks, went to work that day but began feeling dizzy and nauseous and then began slurring his speech.
He called his wife, Edie, who drove over and rushed him to UPMC St. Margaret hospital near Aspinwall, where a CT scan revealed what neither of them ever would have expected — a brain tumor.
A second scan confirmed the presence of a 5 centimeter tumor.
Three days later, doctors removed 90 percent of the tumor. Glioblastomas rarely can be fully surgically removed, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.
To everyone's surprise, including his doctor, Kubiak said, he was back home the next Monday.
“I amazed all of them,” Kubiak said. “I was up working in the yard, even though I wasn't supposed to.”
Later that week, when her husband wanted to stop at the car wash to let everyone know he was OK, Edie Kubiak said she was worried.
“But he needed to be there. It made him feel better instead of coming home and dwelling on what his sickness was,” she said. “It was business as usual. He's amazing, is all I can say.”
Kubiak worked at the car wash on and off since he was about 16. He left a few times to take jobs with PennDOT, PPG and Allegheny Ludlum.
But he always ended up back at the car wash.
It was the customers he enjoyed most about the job.
“I know everybody who comes through there,” Kubiak said.
And pretty much everyone knows him, including police officers from Harmar and nearby communities of Oakmont, Springdale and O'Hara.
“I don't know any day that he took off, except for his recent surgery,” said Harmar Police Chief Jason Domaratz. “That's the way he was: that place was everything to him.”
Siciliano said Kubiak still worries about the car wash.
“He stops occasionally, making sure everything is shut down properly,” he said.
Kubiak began Monday-through-Friday radiation treatments at UPMC St. Margaret in early October. He also takes an oral chemotherapy medication.
Right now, he still has insurance through his job at the car wash, but he's uncertain how long the coverage will continue.
Even with insurance, his chemotherapy medication has a $100 co-pay. Then there's the cost of traveling to the hospital five days a week.
“That, in itself, has to be a gigantic burden,” said Kubiak's daughter, Jodie Cintron.
Fundraising for Andy
Cintron, along with Kubiak's sister, Tracey Miller, are spearheading fundraising efforts to help him pay for medical expenses.
They're organizing a benefit dinner to be held Nov. 10 at the Lower Burrell Moose lodge.
“He's worked very hard at getting what he's got,” Miller, an Arnold resident, said of her brother. “It's not much, but it's much to him. He just needs every help possible.”
Cintron also set up a donation page through Give Forward, an online fundraising website.
She's hoping to raise $2,000.
She knows her dad isn't thrilled about what he calls “charity,” but she wanted to do something to help.
“As soon as he started going through this, I just kind of felt useless; I felt like I should be doing something,” said Cintron of New Kensington. “Who has money put aside for something tragic like this?
“And then you don't even realize the depth of it until you're in the middle of it and asking, ‘How are we going to get through this?' ”
Cintron said she's also hoping that sharing her dad's story will help someone else.
“Everything changed in just that one moment,” she said. “If we can just raise awareness about how serious it is and to pay attention to your body and not ignore what you're going through.”
Doctors warned Kubiak that because the tumor is likely to regrow, the life expectancy for glioblastoma patients is 1 1⁄2 to five years.
“Some people beat it and live longer,” Kubiak said.
He intends to be one of them.
He jokes he has to make it to 80, because that's when their recently purchased home will be paid off.
“That's what I'm living for,” Kubiak said, “to take care of my wife.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.