Cancer patient on finally being closer to vaccine eligibility: 'It feels wonderful'

Photo of Currie Engel
John Coppola of West Haven rings a bell at the conclusion of a round of cancer treatment.

John Coppola of West Haven rings a bell at the conclusion of a round of cancer treatment.

Contributed photo

When John Coppola, 58, found out he had prostate cancer at the end of February last year, he scheduled a biopsy to determine how aggressive the cancer was and figure out next steps. The appointment soon was canceled. So was the next one. And the next one. And the next. COVID had taken precedence.

The West Haven Realtor’s biopsy was canceled a total of four times before he was able to secure an appointment in May.

Finally, he got the call on Memorial Day. People don’t call with bad news on a holiday, he thought to himself.

“That whole time you’re hoping for the best, you don’t know how bad it was,” Coppola said. “By that time, it was extremely aggressive.”

Living with an aggressive form of cancer during the pandemic means Coppola has taken as many precautions as possible to protect himself. He keeps gloves with him and never brings clients in the same car. His wife, a medical assistant, has been fully vaccinated, which provides some degree of relief. But until now, the best protection has been out of his reach.

With Gov. Ned Lamont’s announcement Monday that vaccine eligibility would go by age, Coppola — along with the rest of the Connecticut population aged 55 and older — will be in the very next group. Finally, he’ll get some degree of protection from the virus.

“A week is within reach now in my mind,” said Coppola. “It feels wonderful.” He’s also glad there’s a set timeline that people can look to for guidance.

“Even though I don’t agree with the governor on a lot, this one, I can understand why he did it,” Coppola said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re ever going to please everybody.”

Coppola admitted that if he were 25 years old instead of 58, he’d probably feel differently about the unexpected decision.

Coppola has gone to great lengths to stay healthy. When he was diagnosed, the husband and father of four was told that if he didn’t treat the cancer, it could spread to his bones in a few years. So for five weeks, he drove by himself to Somerset, N.J., every day to get radiation treatment, a stressful trip that sometimes could take up to eight hours in the car. At the beginning, he was waking up at 3 a.m. to get on the road. In that time period, Coppola said he put 8,400 miles on his car.

He also knows the virus’ effects firsthand. Several friends have been on respirators, including one of his contractors who was on a respirator for many weeks.

In search of more vaccine information, Coppola joined a Vaccine Hunter Facebook group about a week ago, which he’d heard about through word of mouth. The group helps crowdsource information about where and how to get a dose of excess vaccine, and also helps eligible residents navigate how to get an appointment for a shot.

For now, he’s trying to see whether he can sign up ahead of the March 1 vaccination start date and will keep checking all the sites.

He’s ready for next Monday. “I’ll be on the phone first thing in the morning,” he said.

Currie.Engel@hearstmediact.com