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Castonguay paying it back for cancer support

Jeff Castonguay, chief of the Bureau of Utilities for Carroll County, is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with the same type of cancer as Gov. Larry Hogan in 2002. He was declared cancer free in 2003.
Jeff Castonguay, chief of the Bureau of Utilities for Carroll County, is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with the same type of cancer as Gov. Larry Hogan in 2002. He was declared cancer free in 2003. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

What started as an innocuous cough in mid-2002 led to perhaps the most difficult battle of Jeff Castonguay's life.

Castonguay, the chief of Carroll County's Bureau of Utilities, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's B-Cell Lymphoma in December 2002, the same cancer that Gov. Larry Hogan is now fighting.

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"I had a cough going on for about six to eight months," the Carroll County resident said. "I had been seeing my doctor but the mass was behind my sternum, so X-rays never saw it."

It was discovered shortly after he and his wife moved into a new home. After a leisurely day at the house, he stood up and passed out. The mass had expanded, putting pressure on his heart, which interfered with his blood flow and caused him to lose consciousness, he said.

What followed — six months of chemotherapy and radiation — might have been considered a nightmare by some, but a former co-worker said Castonguay handled it as he does everything: with a sense of purpose and realism.

"If anything like that happened to me, I would hope I would handle it as well as he did," said Tony Fiorillo, Castonguay's former supervisor at ECS Corporate Services, an engineering consulting firm with locations throughout the East Coast and mid-west. The two first met when Fiorillo hired Castonguay as construction services manager at the company's Frederick office in 2000.

Castonguay didn't hide his diagnosis from his employer, and rather than submit to shame or fear, he approached it much as he would a difficult business situation, Fiorillo said.

"He had the attitude, we have to get this done and get this started," he said. "I never saw any moments of weakness. He fought the challenge, stood up to it, met it head on and ended up kicking its butt."

Though his treatment was taxing to say the least, he refused to let it interfere with his work. After discussing his condition with his employer, the company provided the equipment necessary to work from home or even from the hospital.

"I'd be working on my laptop during chemo, and the oncology nurses would tell me to put it away, but my work was what kept me going," Castonguay said. "Rather than me be 'oh woe is me,' focusing on work was what kept me positive so I wasn't constantly thinking about what was going on."

Each individual's cancer diagnosis is different, he said, and as such, every person's treatment — what he called a "cocktail mix" — is similarly unique.

"Everything that shouldn't be in you they are putting into you," Castonguay said.

Castonguay was eventually declared cancer free in June 2003. But his story doesn't end there.

During his time battling cancer, he benefited from fundraising efforts that went to support him and his family, and he decided to do the same for others.

He became involved with the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life event in Carroll in 2004, and assisted in organizing the event at the Carroll County Agriculture Center each spring. He was even the chair of the event for six years. The event raises between $2,000 and $3,000 annually, he said.

"People did fundraising years ago which helped save my life and I figured it's the least I can do to help save someone else's life," Castonguay said. "The more people that are aware of it and understand it, the more people will know they aren't alone in this."

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Fiorillo said Castonguay always displayed a passion for his work that was only exceeded by his devotion to those who worked for him.

"Aside from his personality, he was also good at taking care of the troops," he said. "He would come in at least once a month and cook breakfast. He is the type of guy that would go out in the middle of the night and bring coffee to crews mixing cement. He was very demanding but also very caring."

The desire to help others was also his motivation to leave the private sector and join county government, he said.

"I wanted to give back to the community I live in," Castonguay said. "I love the county and I had the opportunity, and I haven't looked back once."

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