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Patch Exclusive: Middletown Woman Battling Cancer Hurt in Marathon Bombing

Amy and Michael Garofalo and their two sons were in Boston last week celebrating the one-year anniversary of Amy's stem cell transplant for bone marrow cancer. The family says they're lucky to be alive.

OUTSIDE HARTFORD, CT — They were there for a poignant family celebration. When Amy Garofalo, her husband and boys left Middletown for Boston last Sunday, it was to mark a rebirth — the one-year anniversary of her stem cell transplant cancer treatment.

“Some patients call it a ‘re-birthday’ or a ‘transplantaversary,’ she said.

At 2:50 p.m. on Monday, the second Boston Marathon explosion at the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street blasted shards of glass into Michael Garofalo's head, ruptured both his eardrums, sliced into Amy Garofalo's face and embedded into her hand.

“When the first bomb went off, it shook the restaurant. I looked up the street and could see a big cloud of white smoke. In the 10 seconds before the second blast, I thought it couldn’t be something celebratory, it was too scary. There was no way. It was so loud and so powerful,” she said.

The family was there all day for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation Boston Marathon Watch Party, a fundraiser for cancer patients who have difficulty paying their treatment bills.

"It was a cool morning and the crowds of people were happily cheering on the runners. There was great energy. We sat outside on the restaurant porch, sometimes kneeling high up on bar stools, ringing cowbells and cheering. We sat close to the road most of the morning,” she said.

Just 10 minutes before the blast, Michael Garofalo and his son Jakob, 13, were outside on the patio, 10 feet from the mailbox where Dzokhar Tsaranev, 19, allegedly placed the backpack containing the second pressure cooker bomb.

In photographs of the bombing, you can see the portable metal barrier just in front of the Forum, which the restaurant called "ground zero" for the blast on its website, with Michael inside and a man who lost both legs in the bomb blast in the foreground.

If it wasn’t for Michael checking his cell phone app, one that tracks when a friend who was running the race would arrive at the finish line, the family’s injuries would have been much more grave, Amy said.

Miraculously, the couple’s children were inside the restaurant on a couch and emerged unscathed.

Michael and Amy Garofalo weren’t so lucky. The blast, said Amy Garofalo, blew her husband “down like a ragdoll. I landed on the floor in some glass. Then I had the sensation of being dragged out. It was my older son (Ryan, 16) helping me out. I felt blood trickling down my face.”

As her younger son began to panic, her maternal instincts kicked in, she said. She grabbed her boys and they ran out the back of the Forum in a mass of people scrambling for the exit.

“It was total chaos and terrifying,” she said.

Bleeding from the head from a six-inch gash and his hearing strained, Michael Garofalo ran back in to the Forum to get his wife's purse. He immediately began to run back and forth with buckets of ice from the bar to help the injured until emergency workers arrived. Some in the Forum were seriously injured and lost limbs.

Outside, Amy Garofalo said, “one man standing on the left side of the mailbox had shrapnel wounds to his face and two others on the right side both lost their legs.”

She and the boys ran four blocks and stopped in a park to regroup. There, a man helped them find Michael at Massachusetts General Hospital, where they were reunited.

The family was at the Forum for a daylong benefit — a charity close to Amy Garofalo’s heart. A year ago this month she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow plasma cells. After being examined at the Middlesex Oncology group in Middletown last May, she traveled to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston then underwent three months of chemotherapy. She is undergoing additional chemotherapy again this spring.

Back home in Middletown on Friday morning, Michael Garofalo woke his wife with the news that one of the marathon bombers was dead and the search was on for the other brother.

“I had the news on while I was working and by the time I had to go to the cancer center for chemo, I was feeling physically ill. They checked my vitals and my blood pressure was high. I received my chemotherapy and went home,” Amy wrote on her blog on April 21.

That day, Michael Garofalo learned from his doctor that both of his eardrums were ruptured from the bomb blast, Amy Garofalo said.

“By evening on Friday, I felt I needed to get out of my house and away from the news. I was at a friend's house when Michael texted me at 9 p.m., ‘They got him, he is alive.' I felt a huge sense of relief and Michael and I, along with the world, rested easier Friday night."

She said she's grateful her family's injuries in the blast weren't more serious.

"Our cuts and bruises will heal, but the emotional scars will last a long time. My family was so very lucky, so many families lost so much on that day and have a long and challenging road ahead of them.”

No one, especially children, she said, “should have to experience something this senseless and horrifying. My heart goes out to the injured and the families who lost loved ones. Hug your family little tighter tonight and live every day to the fullest.”

For her, getting back to normal after the bombing means fighting her disease.

“My normal life is cancer.”

Sometimes it’s a struggle to get out of bed, she said, “but you have to keep living.”

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Cindy Halpern April 28, 2013 at 08:50 AM
I am so sorry for their additional troubles.
Heidi Dietrich April 28, 2013 at 10:10 AM
That poor kid having to drag his mother away after that blast. First he learns she has cancer and has to watch her go through chemo. And then this. I hope they all heal up. What a horrible thing!
Jane McGarity April 28, 2013 at 09:03 PM
My heart goes out to all who were anywhere in the vicinity of the Boston Marrathon's horrific bombs. Hopefully they will heal, in time, from their wounds both physical and mental. The anguish is something I cannot even begin to imagine. The good news about this is that people helped peopole during this time and that makes us hopeful about our country's future, even though there are still the crazies to contend with.
Dennis W. Mullins April 28, 2013 at 09:12 PM
My heart and prayers go to you and all who were affect by the blasts, I am glad the lids were okay.
Dennis W. Mullins April 28, 2013 at 09:14 PM
Sorry, kids not lids, dyslexic keyboard.

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