BATH

W hile some of us tried to figure out if we would go out at all on New Year’s Eve or whether “I will eat at Fat Boy this summer” counts as a resolution, Jacob Cuff geared up for 2012 in an entirely different manner.

Just a few days before the calendar changed — and just a few days after his Christmas Eve birthday — the 31- year-old who grew up in Bath went from being a young man on a modest mission (make music, make a living) to a cancer patient. He was clotheslined by a leukemia diagnosis.

I’ve been trying to come up with some goofy-yet-poignant anecdote from my own life fumblings to make sense of this news about someone I’ve grown up with (if you accept the premise that I’ve grown up), but I got nothing. Which reminds me of the second half of this one-two punch: Like many 20- and 30-somethings these days (especially those in the arts community), Jake doesn’t have health insurance.

My diatribe on health care reform can be saved for another day. For now, I’ll start by paraphrasing some extra background information published on the newly launched jacobcuff.org.

On Dec. 29, this musician and fellow Morse High graduate left his house in Avon, Colo., where he’s been living for a few months with his brother Christian, another musically inclined Morse alum. Locally, even those who haven’t necessarily followed the music career of either brother have likely still caught a performance, as the siblings have been featured in the line-up of the last few Bath Heritage Days celebrations.

Jacob conscientiously went to get his health checked at Vail Valley Medical Center after feeling rough around the edges and noticing small lesions on his leg and stomach. He’d been working a fulltime schedule at two busy restaurants, so he’d attributed his exhaustion to the inevitable result of working doubles for nearly a month, and hadn’t grown concerned about the lesions until that week.

The next morning, Jake was on an ambulance to University of Colorado Hospital Anschutz Cancer Pavillion.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia acts very quickly. His family relays that, undiagnosed and untreated, the disease could become fatal in a manner of weeks.

So far, Jake’s been responding well to chemotherapy. He’s even managed to retain his distinguishing dark bushy eyebrows beloved by friends and family (though people still lovingly and flippantly discussed the option of eyebrow prosthetics if need be).

Jake, with new nicknames like “cancer crusher” from loved ones, is toughing it out like a champ. Or, in the colorful but awesome words of one friend posting some encouragement on his Facebook wall, “If Chuck Norris wasn’t such a (female dog), he’d be Jake Cuff.”

There’s a good chance Jake will be an outpatient by the middle of next month. He won’t be totally out of the woods, and regular treatments will still be necessary, but it will be a gigantic stride in the right direction.

In the meantime, there’s one other sizable challenge that must be overcome. Jake’s medical bills recently topped $500,000, and as stated on his website, “the hospital estimates that we are looking at a little over $2 million … funny number right?”

Health insurance is the next step. But as you might imagine, even mere premium costs when something like cancer is in the mix are astronomical — even for a guy with two jobs and a little money coming his way from music.

In Christian’s words: “The premium offers for a preexisting condition like leukemia for a new (Colorado) resident are made up numbers … like wizard spells.”

Family and friends are working feverishly to get him insured, no matter the cost.

This is about the time when it becomes handy to be a musician with a musically talented family, and oodles of other talented people of all kinds as friends.

Many have agreed to share their talents on Jake’s behalf. From 9 p.m. to midnight Friday, the first big fundraiser for the “Leukemapalooza” fundraising series — events will be held in several states — takes place at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland.

The night will feature music by ANNA and Model Airplane, as well as tons of giveaways, raffles and silent auction items. Admission is $8 at the door.

Additional donation incentives include private concerts and lift tickets, as well as autographed goods “by folks far more famous than us,” a release states. Auction and raffle items include artwork, jewelry, services and vouchers donated by people all over the world.

When I check in with Nancy Cuff, Jake’s mother and the owner/operator of Broadway Deli on Maine Street in Brunswick, she’s in the restaurant seemingly fielding as many well wishes and calls to offer auction donations as orders for omelets and tuna melts.

While I was on the phone with her recently, Nancy was in the midst of saying goodbye to former Morse High teacher Jeff Nichols after he stopped by to offer a hug. She is still floored by how generous people have been.

“He’s overwhelmed,” she says of her son, “and I’m humbled by the support.”

Nancy recently received a call from the owner of another local business, whom she had never met, donating a $200 catered meal for the cause and offering to whip up some hors d’oeuvres for some of the fundraising events.

The mother of six says a tiding one of her wait staff received from a patron just before Jan. 1 was fortuitous. “(He said) Happy New Year’s. You may not get everything you want, but may you get everything you need.”

“I’ve always been able to squeeze a nickel really well,” Nancy Cuff said.

Nancy Cuff wants her son to “live to be an old man and not age as quickly as I have,” she says with a slightly weary laugh. “If it takes forever to pay off these medical bills, that’s OK.”

A Mid-coast “Leukemapalooza” event is scheduled for Feb. 4 at the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick, with musical guests Jeff Lemon, Justin Lantrip and The Yellow Roman Candles.

For those who can’t attend, there’s a handy-dandy “donate” button right on the home page of Jake’s website.

Questions can be sent to [email protected]



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