When Diana Nelson Caputo came home from having a double mastectomy, the last thing she expected was to see her bedroom redone with a new king-sized bed, bedding, curtains and newly painted walls.
"They (15-20 friends and family) also steamed cleaned all the rugs, stocked the refrigerator with food and even took my dogs to the groomer," she said.
A Tewksbury High alum (Class of 1984), Caputo who now lives in Salem, NH discovered she had breast cancer in November. A single mom of Joshua, 15 and Joseph, 19, she has lived with her boyfriend Jeremy Goodhue for the past 7 years. Her mother Janet Nelson who now lives in Danville, NH has been a breast cancer survivor for the past twelve and one half years.
Their bed frame broke three years ago when their Akita dog (since passed away) jumped on the bed, explained Caputo.
But 127 Friends of Diana, mostly graduates of the classes of 1984 and 1985 didn't think she should come home from St. Joseph's hospital in Nashua to recuperate on the floor.
"We knew that the bed would be her sanctuary, and that she has financial issues," explained Erin Munroe, '84.
Caputo explained that Munroe masterminded the surprise purchase and makeover by creating the Friends of Diana Facebook page.
"We reconnected after 25 years, along with a few other classmates, and Erin is now my best friend," Caputo said. A professional hairdresser, Munroe gradually cut Caputo's hair and then shaved her head when it was falling out, she said.
Munroe also shaved Caputo's mother's head and that of her son Joshua who wanted to do so in solidarity.
Caputo who was a teacher for many years said she was laid off a year ago. She since worked as a substitute teacher and collected unemployment until she was cut off the day she had surgery.
"I am trying to fight it because I am not allowed to work right now," she explained. She is currently in school working on a her second Master's Degree, IT-Internet Security because she would like to start her own business. But she emphasized it ushard to deal with the financial problems on top of the cancer.
Caputo, who is now on her second round of chemotherapy, has relied on the Facebook site, which she has had access since the surgery, for support and to vent.
The first four weeks of the chemo were the most aggressive, nicknamed "red devil" because it is severe. "For 8 weeks, it felt like the worst hangover of my life, and I lost 30 pounds," she explained.
The second round has caused neuropathy, numbness which makes it difficult to do things. Although she has only 2 rounds left, she will need radiation that will lower her chances of recurring to 20%.
Initially, Caputo said she opted for breast reconstruction during the original surgery. A subsequent infection sent her back to the hospital to take out one of the expanders, so additional plastic surgery is on hold until after the chemo.
"But the response from everyone on Friends of Diana has been amazing and so supportive," she explained. Even her ex-husband is a member of the group. She estimated that her friends raised over $2,000.
Caputo said she finds gifts baskets and flowers on her doorstep, and even received a keyboard when she expressed interest in learning how to play the piano.
Her parents are now building a house in Salem, so they will soon be moving closer to her. For years, Caputo and her mother have participated in the Exeter NH "'Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" held annually in October. "This year we will form a team as survivors to raise money," she explained.
While it is extremely difficult, Caputo feels the need to keep a strong face. "I would like to write a brutally honest book about cancer to include the bad stuff and the great support system that I have. It is not a death sentence to hear you have cancer. It has changed my life and made me a stronger person."
While Caputo thanked all of them for their support, Munroe explained it made them feel better to be able to help her. "Diana taught us all courage. She is handling the cancer with dignity and grace, and she has make us find strength in ourselves, we didn't know we had."