Taco dinner fundraiser in Brentwood to benefit family of cancer patient

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Just weeks after his right leg and part of his pelvis were amputated at UPMC Shadyside, Domenick Henry played the song “Clouds” by Zach Sobiech to tell his mother, Selene, he no longer wanted treatment.

“I want to clock out on my own terms,” said Domenick, 19. “I looked at it as a longer amount of time miserable, not wanting to continue anyway, or a little time on my own terms.”

Domenick was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in January, just two weeks after his 19th birthday, according to Michelle Herzog, a nurse at Family Hospice & Palliative Care.

He underwent surgery on May 17 after three months of chemotherapy. Doctors discovered the cancer spread to his spine, stomach, kidneys and around some major arteries.

“(Continuing with chemotherapy) would probably cause him discomfort more than anything else,” Herzog said. “He himself has chosen for quality rather than quantity.”

Herzog began working with Domenick two months ago, after his amputation. The hospice has been working with Domenick to adjust his pain medication and control pain resulting from phantom limb syndrome.

After his first experience with chemotherapy, Domenick decided that he'd rather spend the time with the people he loved instead of in the hospital.

“I don't want a whole lot,” Domenick said. “I just want to spend a lot of time with friends and family. It's hard for me to plan ahead with things like that.”

Domenick turned to his friend Zoey Johnson, 19 of Belle Vernon. Johnson was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 14 and has been in remission for five years.

She sent the song “Clouds” to Domenick when he was making his decision about treatment.

“I wanted to make sure he had someone there that knew what he was going through,” Johnson said. “I promised him I that I wouldn't leave and wouldn't sugarcoat things.”

Sobiech, of Stillwater, Minn., was diagnosed with osteosarcoma when he was 14. He also decided not to continue treatment and died May 20 at age 17. His song “Clouds” was a way for him to say goodbye to his family.

“I was a blubbering idiot when he played the documentary (‘My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech,' directed by Justin Baldoni) for me, and then he played the song,” said Selene, 39, of Brentwood. “Every time I hear that song now, it's heartbreaking.”

To make matters more difficult, Selene has been unemployed since a few weeks before Domenick's diagnosis. Fundraisers are helping the family with living expenses.

“Right now I need to be home,” said Selene, who also has a daughter, Eva, 7. “Even though he's somewhat functional, he needs my help.”

Friends and family have rallied around Domenick to help raise funds for the family. A taco dinner is scheduled at St. Sylvester Parish from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

“Tacos are Dom's favorite food,” said Cori Protheroe, Domenick's aunt. “I'm realizing no one does a taco dinner, and that makes it a little harder to get things together.”

Friend Jamie Kephart and Johnson also have been driving forces in the fundraiser efforts.

One of the biggest things that Domenick wanted to do was go on a big vacation, so his friends and family this summer spent a week in Pymatuning State Park, about two hours north of Pittsburgh.

“I'm an overly positive person,” Domenick said. “I try not to dwell on it; instead I think about what's going on around me.”

To help stay positive, he started posting a joke of the day on his Facebook page, Dom's Requiem.

“I'm impressed with how much strength he has,” Protheroe said. “People as far away as South Carolina and Georgia have told us they are touched by Domenick's story.”

When he is not resting, Domenick makes replicas of items found in video games and movies, out of polystyrene foam. He has taken this hobby to a new level in the past four months, so friends have pitched in to provide him with supplies and space to work. Most of the items he keeps, but, sometimes, he makes models that remind him of certain people.

For example, he is making his mother a key blade from the game “Kingdom Hearts.”

“See, look at her shirt,” Domenick said while pointing at Selene, who donned a “Kingdom Hearts” T-shirt. “I'd sit there and obsessively sand it, while everyone laughed at me.”

Domenick attended Steel Center while he was a student at Brentwood High School and took classes at the Community College of Allegheny County. He wanted to attend Robert Morris University or the University of Pittsburgh to study civil engineering.

The pain originated around Domenick's knee, so when doctors found the tumor on his pelvis, they began immediate treatment, which ended his dreams for higher education.

“It broke his heart,” Selene said. “I told him it was just a bubble to get over, but he was right.”

Brittany Goncar is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or bgoncar@tribweb.com.

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