News Column

Benefit will help pay medical bills for Smithton couple

May 22, 2014

By Teri Maddox, Belleville News-Democrat

May 22--The tables have turned on Dean and Earlene Schardan.

They have spent two years working on a proposed reality TV show based on their charity work. Now family members are organizing a benefit for them.

Earlene, 44, is being treated for stage 2 ovarian cancer. Doctors removed a melon-size tumor in March.

"It's hard for us to be the ones with our hands out," said Dean, 42, of Smithton. "When her family first approached us (about the benefit), we were like, 'No, we don't want to do that.'"

Then the medical bills started rolling in. Only a small portion is covered by Earlene's health insurance.

She has undergone two of her six chemotherapy treatments, which are spaced three weeks apart. The first one cost $21,000.

"It's obscene," said her sister-in-law Kris Gotto, 43, of Swansea. "And Earlene is such a good person. She would do anything for you. Dean, too."

Kris is organizing the benefit with another sister-in-law, Erin Gotto.

It will be held from noon to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Swansea Improvement Association Hall. The band Aggravated Injury will play classic and modern rock from 8 to midnight.

Admission is free. Money will be raised through raffles and food sales. Parents also can buy $5 armbands for children to play games and jump in bounce houses.

"We can't help with the illness, but we can help with the financial burden," Kris said.

The benefit also will be used to distribute information about early cancer detection.

Dean is a stand-up comedian who performs throughout the Midwest. He recently went back to his old job as a union laborer to help with expenses. Earlene formerly cleaned houses.

Two years ago, Dean filmed a pilot for a proposed reality TV show called "The Long Road Home."

"A production company in L.A. bought an option on the show," Dean said. "That means they're the only ones allowed to pitch it to a network.

"About two months ago, I got the option back. So we're repackaging it and spicing it up a little."

The show's concept is partly based on a dark period in Dean's life. He served seven years in prison for bank robbery.

After his release, Dean returned to comedy and decided to combine road trips with charity work to pay his debt to society.

"My family has a saying: 'If you can find a way to laugh at a problem, you can find a way to get through it,'" he said.

The pilot was filmed at the Mary Brown Center in East St. Louis. Dean and his comedian friends delivered gifts to children, told jokes and arranged for a visit by llamas.

Earlene likely would not have detected her cancer early if not for gastric-bypass surgery in May of 2013. After losing 100 pounds, she felt a lump in her stomach.

The lump grew from softball size to melon size in the week between an initial scan and surgery.

"By the grace of God, we caught it before it spread," Earlene said. "It's called clear-cell ovarian cancer, and it spreads really quickly. They said I was super lucky."

Chemotherapy caused Earlene's hair to fall out, so she and Dean went wig shopping. He shaved his head in solidarity.

The Schardans are thankful for family support, particularly from their two sons, Jory Frick, 29, and Kody Schardan, 19, and fellow members of Grace Church in Fairview Heights.

"(The chemo) knocks me down off my feet for a week to 10 days," Earlene said. "It makes me really sick, but it's worth it if it keeps the cancer from coming back."

At a glance

What: Earlene Schardan benefit

Where: Swansea Improvement Association Hall, 301 Service St. in Swansea

When: Noon to 12:30 a.m. Saturday

Admission: Free

Activities: Live music, food for sale, $5 armbands for kids games and raffles (large items and baskets 4 to 8 p.m.)

Donations: Welcome

Information: Call 314-502-9488, email or visit (donations can be made via PayPal)


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Source: Belleville News-Democrat (IL)

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