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North Jersey families battling cancer thank Tom Coughlin for his foundation’s help

Ex-Giants coach Tom Coughlin at the Jay Fund’s gala in October with Magen Cabrera, a freshman at St. Mary High School in Rutherford who has leukemia.

For many North Jersey families, departing Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s legacy is not two Super Bowl titles but the impact of his foundation, which supports pediatric cancer patients and their families.

“A lot of people say, ‘He’s a wonderful man, wonderful coach,’ but you have to really see it,” said Nancy Lentini on Tuesday. A Giants fan, she learned of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund when her teenage daughter Francesca was diagnosed with leukemia. “These celebrities can come and go to these hospitals to see these ‘sick’ kids, but he comes and really, really wants to be there for the kids, he wants to be there for these families.”

As former players sent out their Coughlin tributes over the past couple of days, local parents have their own to contribute.

“We can’t say enough of him as a man and his foundation,” said Paul Cabrera, whose daughter, Magen, was diagnosed with leukemia on Christmas Day 2014. The staff at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson told them about the foundation. “We were happy that there was someone out there helping us, let alone a New York Giant,” he added.

Coughlin created the foundation in 1996 in honor of his former Boston College player Jay McGillis. In the eight months between the player’s diagnosis and his death, the Coughlin family saw firsthand the physical, emotional and financial strains on the McGillis family. The foundation’s original focus and first mission is to help families with financial issues, so they can focus on their child’s battle with cancer instead of worrying about bills and lost wages. Over the years, it has added survivorship support, sibling support, child life services and a financial literacy program.

“Tom Coughlin, through the Jay Fund, has been very generous and has taken the opportunity to support these patients and families in need,” said Linda Stanton, administrative director of the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center, one of the area hospitals helped by the foundation. “We’re very grateful to him and look forward to a long relationship with the Jay Fund.”

Calling it “my other love in life,” Coughlin spoke about his foundation during a news conference Tuesday, assuring everyone that while he may no longer be the Giants coach, the foundation is not going anywhere.

“I don’t know exactly what is next for me, but I do know that in this time we will devote a lot of our energy to the Jay Fund Foundation, to specifically the ‘Be There’ [fundraising] campaign, which we have promised the New York, New Jersey area,” he said. “We have promised that the Jay Fund would be here in perpetuity. … We are there to help people that have children with cancer. That’s what we do. We have no other alternative.”

When Coughlin was fired as coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2002, the Jay Fund maintained its commitment to that area. When he began his tenure as Giants head coach in 2004, he brought the foundation and its mission to North Jersey, where it has provided financial assistance to more than 375 families.

The foundation helped the Cabrera family financially, but the money didn’t have the biggest impact, according to Cabrera. Magen, a freshman at St. Mary High School in Rutherford, went to the Giants training facility, was visited at the hospital, received tickets to a One Direction concert and attended the foundation’s annual gala in Manhattan. During each of these memorable events, she was able to keep her mind off her cancer.

“For that time, she didn’t worry about what her next treatment was going to be, how she was going to feel from the next round of chemo she was going to get,” said her dad. “For that brief time, and whenever she got invited to these things, she completely forgot about being sick. And that, to us, was more important than how they would help us financially – which was very appreciated.”

At the Champions for Children gala in October, Cabrera and his daughter sat with the McGillis family and were shocked to hear Coughlin speak about Magen’s battle. She is in remission and has been able to return to school while still receiving treatment.

“We just thought we were going to be invited,” Cabrera said. “She was a focal point of that evening in this huge extravagant affair. … The joy that she had from that evening was just amazing.”

For fans, the coach is gone. For those who have become Jay Fund family, Coughlin’s impact continues.

“In the end for me, I think of him as a coach first, but I’ll always truly remember him coming into that hospital room with my daughter, talking to her,” said Lentini. Her daughter Francesca’s cancer also is in remission and she has been able to return to school while continuing treatment.

“He really truly cares and wants to be there for us as parents to do whatever he can to make sure our No. 1 focus was our children,” Lentini said. “I’ll always be a fan, always be a fan. And I’ll always be grateful for him and his foundation.” LINK TO THE ARTICLE HERE.