When Andy Freed, CEO of Virtual, Inc., first met his new client, Bob Russo, in 2007, he never would have thought, just two years later, his client would be standing by Andy’s hospital bed as he recovered from surgery for metastatic thyroid cancer. But “that’s just the kind of guy Bob is,” Andy says, recalling how the two quickly formed a friendship, especially as Bob shared his family’s story with Andy.
Bob’s son, Rob Jr., was diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) and treated for more than 15 years at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute by George Demetri, MD, director of the Sarcoma Center and Quick Family Chair in Medical Oncology at Dana-Farber, before he passed away in 2020 at age 45. When Rob was newly in treatment, he was invited to participate in Jimmy Fund Day at Fenway (formerly known as Fenway Fantasy Day). Traveling from their home in New York City, Rob and his family couldn’t pass on the opportunity to bat and field at the storied ballpark. In that moment—despite Yankees allegiances—Team Russo, which has now raised more than $2 million in support of Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund, was born.
“Bob’s commitment to the event and to helping the Jimmy Fund was infectious,” Andy says. He soon got the team at Virtual involved, sponsoring Team Russo and supporting their efforts every year since 2009. With Andy’s own cancer diagnosis that year, and the diagnosis of the company’s founder in 2019, it seems every year there is, unfortunately, another reason for the Virtual family to stay involved in the event, Andy says.
It was a coworker at Virtual, a strategic consulting and professional services firm, who first spotted Andy’s cancer in 2009, pointing out a lump on the side of his neck. Andy went to his doctor and had a biopsy, which revealed thyroid cancer—already spread throughout his lymph nodes.
“I was fortunate that I was able to get care at Dana-Farber,” Andy says. “I had a cancer doing things it shouldn’t do and metastasizing so quickly; I knew the folks at Dana-Farber would study the case and figure out what was going on.”
Andy had surgery that was intended to be four hours and ended up being 12 and a half, with a scar from his throat to the top of his spine to prove it. His friend Bob traveled from New York City to be there when he got out. As Andy tells it, Bob said he had lit plenty of candles at the hospital chapel by that point, and if Andy wasn’t up for a visit he could light a few for Andy, too. When Andy was in pain after his surgery, it was Bob who ran around the floor searching for someone to help. “He’s like the brother I never had,” Andy reflects. “Our friendship and our relationship with the event has deepened as well.”
In 2023, now cancer-free for 14 years, Andy and his colleagues will be back at Jimmy Fund Day at Fenway presented by DraftKings, supporting Team Russo and the dozens of Dana-Farber patients who take the plate to live out their baseball dreams. “It’s unbelievable to see the courage that so many of the patients have,” Andy says. “Getting to be even a small part of that is something I cherish.”
Another highlight for Andy is watching his staff join in alongside their families, often fulfilling lifelong dreams. “Fenway has been hallowed ground for their whole lives and now it’s red clay on their sneakers,” he says. “It’s pretty fun to see. And knowing the result is supporting the work at Dana-Farber makes it quite the combination.”
While the event is always a highlight for Andy and his team, his dream is that one day in his lifetime it will no longer be necessary, as Dana-Farber continues to make advances to defy cancer for all patients.
“Dana-Farber is an extraordinary part of Boston, and we’re delighted to partner with the Jimmy Fund to work on something so beneficial to so many.”
Join Andy in supporting Jimmy Fund Day at Fenway! Make a donation to sponsor a patient to bat and field at Boston’s beloved ballpark. All donations will be matched, up to $10,000, by Arbella Insurance Group.
You can also join The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.