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Cranberry family an inspiration to many

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 5:51 p.m.
C. Border Photography
The Long family of Cranberry is this year's Cranberry Community Uniting People Inspirational Family. Left to right: Alexis, 11; Cody, 13; Kimberly, 39, and Ricky, 15. All three children cropped their hair short in support of their mother, Kimberly, who lost her hair as the result of treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma and is unable to work. Cranberry CUP will help support the family through fundraising events such as a golf outing and softball tournament in August.

Divorced mother of three Kimberly Long had been working nearly a year at a job with benefits when she fell ill in June with Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer originating in the white blood cells. Long underwent 20 rounds of radiation, which sickened her so she could no longer work

“I was hospitalized four times because the chemo made me feel awful,” said Long, 39, of Cranberry.

Long went on short-term disability, but that has run out. With medical bills of $67,000, no medical benefits and no job to pay for them, Long was at a low ebb. Her friends, especially those at her church, Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church, discussed ways to help Long and her three children.

“A friend said, ‘You ought to nominate Kim for Cranberry CUP,” said Nancy Hodges of Cranberry. So Hodges did, asking Long's physicians for documentation of her tough cancer battle.

As a result, Long and her family are this year's Cranberry Community Uniting People Inspirational Family. The nonprofit Cranberry CUP organization of volunteers raises money each year for people in need in their Butler County community.

“I feel very honored to have been chosen,” Long said. “It's a great feeling. Cranberry CUP does so much for so many.”

Long said any money the organization raises will be much appreciated: “I'm living off my income tax return.”

The worrying about money has added to the stress of her recovery. She will have a PET (positron emission tomography) scan May 10 to look for any remaining signs of Hodgkins disease, and a doctor's appointment May 14.

“Then we'll find out if it's gone or not,” she said of the cancer.

Hodges, Long's friend of three years, said the honor is deserved.

“They'll do anything for anybody,” Hodges said of Long and her three children, Ricky, 15; Cody, 13; and Alexis, 11. The family has opened its doors to at least one neighbor with what Hodges called “family issues.” And the four Longs all recently volunteered, along with the Hodges family and other members of their church, for the Pittsburgh Project.

The Long children have supported their mother in her cancer fight, with Ricky carrying his mother from the couch to her bed and back when she couldn't walk on her own after chemotherapty. He also got a job at Burger King to help support the family. The younger children shoveled snow last winter “just to earn something,” Long said.

“They all have chores and they all do them,” Hodges said. And when their mother lost her hair after her cancer treatments, the children all had their hair cut very short in support.

Cathy Cortazzo, founder and board president of Cranberry CUP, said the organization has promised to pay Long's necessary bills, such as utilities, home mortgage and car insurance, for a year.

“That will give her a tremendous (boost). She will be able to focus on being with her family and trying to get better,” said Cortazzo, a former Cranberry resident now living in Seven Fields.

Cranberry CUP will celebrate its 2013 Inspirational Family beginning Aug. 2 with a golf outing during the day and a kickoff party that evening at Cranberry Highlands Golf Club. The next day will feature an opening ceremony for the organization's annual softball tournament at Cranberry Park, where the Long family will come in by fire truck and will be greeted by the softball players, their families and local dignitaries.

“They see that the community is there for them,” Cortazzo said. The tournament raises funds, with each player paying $25, and each team selling $500 worth of raffle tickets. The organization is accepting teams until May 13. For further information, log onto www.cranberrycup.org.

Cranberry CUP, founded in 2000, helps not only the Inspirational Family, but other needy area families, particularly during the Christmas season. It began as a township softball tournament, but grew from raising money for the American Cancer Society to supporting local families experiencing extreme financial and medical challenges.

“It's one weekend a year where people can get out, have fun and do something good for someone else,” Cortazzo said.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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