East Lyme: Generally, the family member who lives closest to a relative who has become seriously ill takes responsibility for managing it.
But in the case of Phillip Princevalle, who at age 60 had just been diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer in March 2020, it was his daughter who lived further afield who answered the call of duty.
Coryn Princevalle of Niantic, 31, had recently moved to Connecticut from Florida to live with her elderly grandmother to help her with basic tasks like grocery shopping and making sure she ate.
“It was not an option. It was not a debate,” said Coryn Princevalle regarding taking on the role of caretaker for her father.
Princevalle’s dedication to her late father over the last 14 months of her life has now been recognized by the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s fifth annual TRUE Love contest, which calls for submissions that describe “a unique caregiver situation.”
“She really put her life aside and gave it her all, taking months off work to do so,” her sister Loryn Dempsey of Waterford wrote in her essay for the TRUE Love Contest submission. “She is an amazing person who deserves to be honored for all the selflessness and love she poured into her role as caregiver without a second thought.”
Princevalle was always close to her father and believed that she was in the best position to help. The middle child of three sisters, she was the only one without children or a housing lease. Her younger sister, Loryn Dempsey, of Waterford, 29, and her older sister, Taryn Princevalle, of Waterford, 34, each have two children who are now between five months and 11 years old. They both have a 2 year old son.
“We just had our babies,” said Dempsey, who works in human resources for a technology startup. “It was a wild moment.”
At first, Coryn Princevalle helped her father with his medications and took him to his doctor and radiology appointments, but a year later, she needed a lot more help. That’s when she decided to take a leave of absence from her job as director of operations at a Dunkin Donuts franchise to move in with her father and provide full-time caregiving assistance.
“I wanted to be alone and live here. He wanted his life not to change,” Princevalle said. “It was an honor. Whatever he wanted, I would have done whatever.”
It was understandable that he chose to stay in his 500-square-foot bungalow apartment rather than a hospice room in a hospital or nursing home. She had lived there for 10 years and had a picturesque private dock, where she often sat to enjoy a lovely view of Gorton Pond. Passers-by on Flanders Road loved the giant 12-foot inflatable Frankenstein decoration she put up on the pier for Halloween. Princevalle and Dempsey loved reading the appreciative comments they received on their Facebook posts about their glowing Frankenstein figure standing at the water’s edge.
During her father’s final months, when Princevalley moved in with him to take on 24-hour hospice care responsibilities, she experienced heightened anxiety. She found herself constantly pleading for him to have constant pain relief and feared the possibility of finding him dead. To help with the emotional challenges of being a caregiver, her therapist encouraged Princevalle to start projects involving her father.
She and Dempsey recalled how quickly they had to coordinate all the children and grandchildren who wanted their own plaster memento of her hand shaking his hand.
“I had to feel good enough to do it. We had to stand still for 15 minutes to let the concrete dry,” Princevalle said. “He was a champion. He sat through it all.”
Each of the hand molds took 24 hours to dry before they could peel it off. It took him a week to finish making all the manual molds. He also spent a lot of time interviewing his father to preserve his memories for generations to come.
After their father passed away in May 2021, the sisters decided to support the Prostate Cancer Foundation in his memory. That’s when Dempsey discovered the foundation’s TRUE Love contest, which takes place every year around Valentine’s Day.
“We talked to patients a lot and there was this recurring story about how involved caregivers were,” said Ashley Hunter, the foundation’s senior director of marketing. “This was a way to honor them.”
Kristen Bell is an award-winning actress and the foundation’s celebrity ambassador for the True Caregiver Campaign because her father-in-law also succumbed to prostate cancer. She was motivated to educate people about the fact that it is a highly treatable cancer if caught early. The foundation encourages people to talk to their doctor, urologist, and family to see if they may be at increased risk, as there could be a genetic cause for some people.
Dempsey’s essay was one of two winners selected by Bell from hundreds of submissions from across the country. In addition to having their writing posted on the foundation’s website, Dempsey and Princevalle hope to receive a “special package for Bell’s hand-selected caregivers.”