“The Smallest Things Mean So Much”

Military service instills resolve -- not just in individual servicemen and women, but in entire families. One family, in particular, perfectly exemplifies this strength: the Sitorius family. In a year that has posed inordinate hardship and stress as brought on by the pandemic, the Sitoriuses have faced some of the most heartbreaking and challenging circumstances a family could face -- but their story is one of relentless faith.

Alex Sitorius is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2009-2010. He lives with his wife, Ashley, and their two children, Carter, 11, and Deliah, 8, in North Carolina.

Following Alex’s return from deployment, he wrestled with physical and mental recuperation from knee surgeries and PTSD. Ashley fought hard to help Alex receive the care he desperately needed. One lifeline came through a veteran’s assistance program -- but when the family was released from the program, Ashley was not sure where to turn. Alex had gone through five jobs within five years, and the family’s bills were piling up. She found Semper Fi & America’s Fund through a friend, and was quickly introduced to Beth C., their case manager. Through Beth’s coordination, The Fund was able to assist the Sitoriuses with mortgage payments, rehabilitation equipment, and assistive home devices. The Fund also helped Alex adopt a service dog, Jet. Immediately, Jet became a close member of the family, instrumental in both Alex’s healing and in supporting the entire family as they face their most difficult challenge yet. Soon after welcoming Jet, in August 2019, the family received devastating news.

Alex’s daughter, Deliah, who had been suffering from headaches for months, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. The tumors cannot be classified due to a highly unusual gene mutation. Alex and Ashley were determined for Deliah to have the best treatment options available, and when Beth and The Fund heard the news, they immediately stepped in to help. Deliah underwent the “gold standard” of chemotherapy, administered at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, a six-hour roundtrip from home. The Fund continued to step in to provide gift cards for gas and meals on the road, which offset some of the costs of the weekly trips to the hospital. The Fund also frequently sent surprises, like soup and the kids’ favorite chocolate chip cookies, to greet the family when they returned home. Ashley says such help in ways big and small has supported them not only financially, but provided much-needed relief on the family’s hardest, most emotional days. “The smallest things,” she said, “mean so much.”

Chemotherapy was exhausting, but Alex, Ashley, and every doctor who encountered Deliah were inspired by her unshakable faith and bright spirit. Jet sensed Deliah’s pain, too, and remained at her side throughout the treatment. Since childhood, Deliah has lit up her family’s world -- and Alex says that in his darkest moments, his daughter has saved his life more than once. Seeing Deliah battle through such a nightmare with such bravery has moved the family, and their entire community.

Over the course of the year, Deliah continued her treatment at UNC, but the thousands of miles back-and-forth from Chapel Hill took a toll on the family’s car. Once again, The Fund stepped in to solve their concern with transportation to the hospital, so the family stayed focused on Deliah and her treatment.

One of the most valuable gifts The Fund has given the family is not a financial one -- it is the lifelong friendship that has developed between Ashley and Beth. According to Alex, Beth has gone “far and beyond” her role as case manager, and has become an invaluable support system for Ashley, especially as many of her fellow military spouses are no longer local to their area. It is so special, he said, for someone to “get it,” and for someone to care so deeply about their family. This emotional support was especially vital when, just a few months ago, the family received a frightening update.

On September 28th, 2020, the Sitoriuses found out Deliah’s tumor was growing again. Devastated -- and worried Deliah’s needs had outpaced traditional chemotherapy --Ashley began researching treatment methods on her own. Through a Facebook organization for cancer patients with the ALK gene mutation, Ashley was connected with doctors in Philadelphia, who suggested Deliah be treated with oral chemotherapy. Because of Ashley’s research, Deliah began this oral chemotherapy -- and for the first time in sixteen months, her tumor has shrunk drastically. In mid-November, Deliah was able to return to in-person school for the first time in fifteen months. Today, she is thriving in school and enjoying being around her classmates and is finally experiencing some normalcy after a year characterized by isolation and crisis. She continues to receive oral chemotherapy, with Jet at her bedside at all times, and the family is hopeful her remaining tumor will continue to show signs of minimizing.

Alex, Ashley, Deliah and Carter believe the challenges they have faced over the last year and a half are opportunities in disguise, teaching them how to be fierce advocates for one another. Today, the Sitorius family remains ever hopeful for Deliah’s continued improvement and is inspired on a daily basis by their daughter’s strength and ever-present smile.

“We wouldn’t be here without Beth, The Fund, and their generous donors,” said Ashley. “It’s absolutely incredible, seeing what everyone has done for our family. The Fund’s help was a blessing from the start -- but today, we consider The Fund life-changing.”