The Greatest Gift
Massa hopes to be cancer-free before Christmas Walk and Parade
This year’s Christmas Walk and Parade grand marshal is no stranger to the event.
Working with the City of Warren Department of Public Works for the last 19 years, Vinnie Massa has helped make sure traffic control is handled, has coordinated with police, and generally made sure all goes smoothly.
As a parent, Massa has enjoyed the parade and walk from the streets with his children.
“It’s a very nice event for the community to kick off the holiday season,” he said. “I’ve always liked how that brings the community together to launch the Christmas season.”
This year, Grand Marshal Massa will witness the parade from the Warren County Historical Society horse-drawn trolley.
At the last Christmas Walk and Parade, he didn’t know he had cancer.
He is hoping that he will be able to experience this year’s parade as someone who has beaten cancer.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” Massa said. He was born and raised in Warren, the son of Steve and Nancy. He graduated from Warren Area High School and Slippery Rock University.
“Next year will be my 20th year working for the City of Warren, all of it in the Department of Public Works,” he said.
“I played in the over-30 softball league for 15 years,” Massa said. “I was president of the league for four years.”
He was in the local dart league for 13 years.
“I gave all that up a couple years ago and now I golf,” he said. “That’s my thing.”
But, that was not the biggest change in Massa’s life.
“In later summer of 2016 I felt some pain in my lower abdomen,” he said. “We weren’t sure what it was.”
“Around Thanksgiving a lump was found in my stomach,” Massa said. “The scan showed what we thought was a cyst.”
In February, at Allegheny General Hospital, that cyst was found to be a cancerous tumor — “completely changing my life forever,” Massa said.
There were physical changes.
“I had my spleen removed, portion of my pancreas, portion of my stomach, portion of my colon, and a few thin layers of my diaphragm,” he said.
And there have been lifestyle changes.
“From a health standpoint, I’m not able to be as vigorous and outgoing as I used to,” he said. “It’s been a very stressful and emotional ride.”
But, there were other changes, too.
“After the surgery, in February, while in Pittsburgh, I proposed to my girlfriend, Amy, who I married on 7/7/17,” Massa said. “She’s been my best friend through all of this. I don’t know if I’d have made it through without her.”
With Amy’s help, Massa was able to return to work in May.
The community has been very supportive throughout, Massa said. “I can’t thank the community enough. Nobody seems to want to let me go. Somebody is always there.”
In May, a benefit was held for Massa.
“A generous portion of the community attended,” he said.
A support movement grew out of that event. “From that stemmed what we call the V Strong network which has continued to help me, fight with me, and be around me through all of this.”
“My group of friends — the V Strong Network — they’ve taken me out to Cleveland for an Indians game and a Browns game,” he said. “The Warren Area High School girls volleyball team did a Pink Out for me. That was amazing what they did. Coach Dolan and those ladies are amazing.”
Massa has been going to Dover, Del., for NASCAR.
This year, it was different.
Lance Munksgard of the V Strong Network got hot pit passes this time. “We got to watch the race from inside the track — from the infield,” Massa said. “Pit Row was right in front of us. You could smell the gasoline and the burned rubber.”
“The V Strong Network keeps continuing to do amazing things for me,” he said. “That’s headed up by my family, my wife and all my close friends, Most especially Melissa Casey Rich. She’s the leader of the whole group. I’ll never be able to thank her enough.”
Massa is undergoing his second round of treatments now.
“I’ve been doing treatment since the end of May,” he said. So far, it has been encouraging. “The two tumors that were growing in my liver had reduced by 70 percent.”
Vinnie and Amy, and their children, Caroline, Chloe, Lorelei, and Phoebe hope they are celebrating more than his term as Grand Marshal at the parade. “We’re hoping that somehow, I’ll have a scan after Thanksgiving, and hopefully get the greatest Christmas present I’ve ever had.”