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Terminal Cancer Patient Finds Help in Facebook Group

 Kallio at the Chelsea Square diner on West 23rd Street.
Kallio at the Chelsea Square diner on West 23rd Street.
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DNAinfo/Rosa Goldensohn

CHELSEA —  In January, Jay Kallio's doctor gave him six months to a year to live.

Kallio, 59, has a pernicious form of lung cancer, his second cancer, he said.

Kallio’s apartment in the Fulton Houses slipped into disrepair this winter.  When his toilet stopped flushing and his lights went out, he didn’t want to pester NYCHA for repairs.

“I basically said, ‘Look, I’m not long for the world here, so you might as well just wait until I die and then go in there and do everything,’” he said.

Kallio, a trans man and longtime gay activist whose partner died in 2008, could barely get out of bed from fatigue.

“You run out of emotional steam,” he said. “I’ve never been like a weak-willed person. So for me to end up running out of steam, that’s kind of what cancer does to you.”

On May 25, Kallio posted that he was giving away his belongings on the Facebook page Queer Exchange, a message board where people who identify as queer trade items like Ikea bookshelves and chat about community issues.  

When Ella Grasch, 36, of Flatiron, came to pick up some free soaps that Kallio couldn’t use on his skin, she asked if she could come upstairs to his apartment.

“I said, 'No, it’s in too terrible a condition, I don’t bring people up,'” Kallio said. “When she found out I didn’t have a working toilet…that was when she got moving.”

“I was like, 'Listen, I can’t let you live like this,’” Grasch said. “'Can I post something about your situation?’”

In a matter of minutes, Grasch’s post on Queer Exchange about Kallio’s living conditions garnered dozens of responses, from offers to help with repairs to fundraising plans. One person working for the city helped Kallio follow up with NYCHA managers. Repairmen came in 20 minutes after he filed the complaint, he said.

Friends, acquaintances and many strangers have already raised more than $6,000 to help pay for pain treatments, food and care.

“That makes a huge difference in my life,” Kallio said.  “A night-and-day difference in my life. I’m used to surviving on $800 a month.”

Grasch found Kallio’s concern for others inspiring. “To be on borrowed time and yet care so much about the community — to make sure people have his clothes because they can’t afford them,” she said.

“I feel very powerless against most things, so the fact that I can physically and literally help him is really powerful and I’m more than happy I can do it.”

Kallio, formerly Joy, came to New York in the early 1970s, earning a nickel for each Majority Report feminist newspaper he handed out and volunteering with the activist group Lesbian Feminist Liberation.

Over the years, he worked at an offset printing press and volunteered as a medic at Ground Zero, he said. He transitioned to male gender at age 50, and four years later was diagnosed with breast cancer.

At each turn, Kallio spoke out about the political and bureaucratic problems that disturbed his life, from the then-illegality of marrying his longtime partner to discrimination against transgender people in the healthcare system.  

Simultaneously, he lived in poverty, getting groceries from store trash cans at night.

There is one bureaucracy to which Kallio is grateful — NYCHA. He first moved to the Fulton Houses 14 years ago.

“They basically have been putting me up in my time of need,” Kallio said. “I would have been out on the street, I would have been homeless without them."

He has borne his illness alone, in the company of his cats Mia and Cleo. He repeats Buddhist mantras and has recently taken up a new calming exercise: adult coloring, recommended by another cancer patient on Facebook.

“You can actually get quite artistic, I’ve found, with this,” he said.

Kallio fears that aging and dying leaves many LGBT seniors abandoned, as he felt happened to his partner Eleanor Cooper and his friend Florynce Kennedy.

“To my sorrow, I have to say that the whole family-of-choice thing didn’t work. It was too flimsy. It was like friendship doesn’t have the kind of connotation to it that a familial relationship has in terms of responsibilities to one another,” he said.

But he has been stunned by the outpouring of support from strangers since Grasch's post.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to me that they’re doing that,” Kallio said of the effort on his behalf. “My hope is that they’re going to do it for each other.”