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Locals plan fundraiser to benefit a friend in need

A benefit for longtime Claremont resident Scott Quackenbos, 51, is set for Saturday, August 27 at Last Name Brewing [formerly Dale Bros.] in Upland, with live music, raffles and a portion of the day’s receipts going to help defray his significant medical costs. 

Mr. Quackenbos was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January and has since undergone surgeries and radiation and continues to receive chemotherapy treatments. A pile of medical bills—upwards of $20,000— has accumulated. His health issues and time dedicated to treatment has put his career as an IT consultant on hold. His friends and loved ones are rallying to help alleviate the debt.

The event “To Benefit the Mighty Scott Quackenbos” gets underway at 5 p.m. Legendary local indie rockers Wckr Spgt and Refrigerator are set to play, along with Mr. P [from equally legendary local rockers Desperation Squad] and his band Freedom Rock. Live music runs from 6 to 9 p.m., with the raffles and other fundraising events happening from 5 p.m. to closing. The event is free and open to the public.  

The benefit is spearheaded by Meredith Evans and Robin Young.

“Scott and I have been friends for more than 35 years,” Ms. Evans said. “We were in the theater department at Claremont High together. When he was diagnosed, I wanted to do whatever I could to help. Having gone through a lengthy hospitalization myself a number of years ago, I was fortunate to be on the receiving end of my community of friends and family supporting me and even holding a fundraiser. I knew we needed to do the same for Scott.”

Mr. Quackenbos had been healthy all his life, so his diagnosis was a shock. Rarely ill, he thought the nagging fatigue and overall unwell sensation he was feeling back in early January was more an annoyance than a red flag. But on January 12, as he was going about his work as an IT consultant for one of his clients, Last Name Brewery, a friend and brewery administrator, Ms. Evans, knew that something was not right. 

Mr. Quackenbos’ appearance—he looked drained, and his eyes had taken on an alarming yellow hue—was distressing, she said.

“This was a guy who hasn’t really needed to go the doctor ever. So something going on inside him that made his eyes go yellow just didn’t compute.”

She was adamant Mr. Quackenbos get to a hospital straightaway. At San Antonio Regional Hospital in Upland, the emergency room doctor who first saw Mr. Quackenbos was equally concerned.

“He was scared,” Mr. Quackenbos recalled. “He basically said, ‘Well, we need you to talk to our cancer guy.’”

A CT scan showed a tumor on his bile duct, at the head of his pancreas, the doctor explained. It was pancreatic cancer, one of the most devastating diagnoses one can receive. 

As the news washed over Mr. Quackenbos, time slowed to a crawl. He had been texting his girlfriend of five years, Livia Winston, as the news was coming down. Serendipitously, Ms. Winston was working with Dr. Peter Butler, division chief of endocrinology and director of the Larry Hillblom Islet Research Center at UCLA. She was simultaneously comforting Mr. Quackenbos and texting her boss with the increasingly grim news of her boyfriend’s diagnosis.

Doctors at San Antonio wanted to admit Mr. Quackenbos, but his girlfriend and her boss urged him to come to UCLA. The doctors in Upland eventually agreed, given the seriousness of the diagnosis and the Westwood hospital’s state-of-the-art cancer treatment facilities. 

“So I walked out, and I started driving on Foothill, kinda freaking out, and I went straight to In-n-Out,” Mr. Quackenbos said. “I went, ‘I need a cheeseburger and fries!’ And then everything went really fast.” 

Due to the size and location of the tumor on his pancreas, the surgical team at UCLA made his treatment a priority.

“The surgeon walked in to see him for the first time and he said, ‘Okay, we’re doing this surgery in a week,’” Ms. Winston recalled. “They weren’t blasé about it at all. It was clear they felt that it was at a critical stage where we could stop this, and it was now or never.”

His yellow eyes turned out to be a symptom of jaundice. On January 15, Mr. Quackenbos had a stent inserted in his chest to drain the bile that had been accumulating at a dangerous rate. This procedure cleared up the jaundice within 12 hours.

He was wheeled in for his cancer surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on January 21. The eight-hour surgery was a success on one hand—the tumor was removed with “good margins” [medical speak for no cancer cells being visible at the outer edge of the tissue that has been removed]. But the surgeon had inadvertently nicked a vein during the procedure, and now Mr. Quackenbos’ belly was filling with blood.

A second surgery was immediately required to repair the damaged vein and stop the bleeding. That ordeal over with, Mr. Quackenbos then developed an infection, necessitating a round of heavy IV antibiotics. All told he spent 12 days at UCLA, emerging gratefully February 1. 

“Then I went from UCLA to Liv’s [Ms. Winston’s West Hollywood home], and I stayed there about a month,” Mr. Quackenbos explained. He worked hard to get his strength up. Eventually, he built it up to where he could walk around the block unassisted. 

He returned to his Claremont home March 1, and began receiving chemotherapy treatments at City of Hope in Duarte on April 1. There were three rounds of chemotherapy scheduled, three sessions per week for three weeks. But Mr. Quackenbos’ white blood cell count plummeted, and the course was delayed. If all goes as planned he will complete his fifth and final round of chemotherapy at the end of this month. 

“It all accumulates,” Mr. Quackenbos said when asked how he felt this week. “Today, I feel okay…ish. But it accumulates. And then you just get tired. And the mental stuff is tough. You just want to curl up in a ball some days. And it hurts.” 

The 49-year Claremont resident has been self-employed for the past 15 years, steadily building his Quackenbos Computer Solutions IT business. His health insurance is solid, but co-pay and deductible bills combined with the fact that he had to close his previously bustling business in order to undergo surgeries and receive treatments have left him nearly $20,000 in debt. And his self-employed status precludes him from collecting disability insurance payments for some time. On top of all this, his job involves crawling around in attics and equipment rooms, climbing ladders and maneuvering under desks, tasks that his weakened body simply will not allow.

“And I want to work. I want to be helping clients. I really do. But I’m ineffective,” he explained. “And it’s crushing. It’s so frustrating.” Mr. Quackenbos has been referring his clients to a friend’s company during his illness. He hopes to be back in business just as soon as his body, and his doctors, say it’s okay. 

The participation of Wckr Spgt singer and lyricist Joel Huschle at the upcoming benefit is meaningful to both parties. Mr. Huschle has been a close friend since the pair were classmates at Claremont High in the early 1980s.

“The bond that we formed continues to this day and became even stronger this January when I found out, I had an abdominal tumor that would have to be surgically removed,” Mr. Huschle said. “I was freaking out but Scott kept me grounded and offered to accompany me to doctor’s appointments and bring me lunch. As I was gearing up for my own surgery, Scott was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and ended up having his abdominal surgery the day before mine. So he was over at UCLA and I was at San Antonio Regional and we had both been cut open from stem to stern. My tumor was thankfully benign, but Scott is still in the battle. Scott is the kind of friend who would do anything for his friends, so it’s an honor to be able to do something for him.”

For now, his friends and loved ones are rallying around “the mighty Scott Quackenbos.”

“How the hell I rate ‘the mighty’ is beyond me,” Mr. Quackenbos joked, “but everyone’s been so great. I guess I just can’t believe how nice everyone has been. It’s humbling. I’m overwhelmed.”

Ms. Winston is less perplexed by the outpuring of support her boyfriend has received.

“He’s surprised that he has himself coming back at him. He has set an example for a lot of people. He is an amazing person.”

“To Benefit the Mighty Scott Quackenbos” takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, August 27 at Last Name Brewing, 120 Porterfield Way, Upland. More information is at facebook.com, just search “To Benefit the Mighty Scott Quackenbos.”

A Give Forward page in Mr. Quackenbos’ name has also been established at pages.giveforward.com/medical/page-d75k5r5/activity/483809. 

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com