Mass General Hospital was many homes to Frank Soldo. He worked there for 15 years as a development and philanthropy specialist. His own doctor worked there too, though Frank had few medical problems. As a rower, he was excessively healthy.
He loved rowing: the calm, the community, the equipment, the outfits. It was an opportunity to exercise his charisma, too. Once, at the Head of the Charles, he sculled as a substitute on the Ukrainian Mens’ Masters. He spoke no Ukrainian.
One July evening last year he felt a side pain. Rowers can crack ribs, so when it worsened, Frank went to the emergency room — Mass General, of course — where he was diagnosed with a cancer so rare it affects only 20 to 30 people each year. The prognosis was six to nine months. He was 53 years old.
“His cancer was fast and furious. I mean, the cancer took him so fast,” remembers Frank’s best friend, Robert. “He fought death.”
Robert knew Frank in every charismatic incarnation: the Frank who had developed a North Shore cancer walk, the Frank who did summer-stock theater and sang in the Gay Men’s Chorus, the Frank who wore farmer’s overalls to go apple-picking.
“He drove everybody crazy,” Robert recalls. “But you could love him at the same time.”
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Frank posted his condition on Facebook, and his schedule filled with day and night helpers. He had found a way to take care of all those who were devastated: he let them take care of him.
“Everybody wanted to be there for Frank. Everybody wanted to sit with him in chemo and radiation,” Robert remembers.
His mother brought ravioli from New Jersey. The Gentle Giant Rowers rowed in shirts that read: “Pulling for Frank.” In a nod to his hosting spirit, someone smuggled Tanqueray and tonic into the hospice.
He didn’t want to be the source of anyone’s final grief. After he died, everyone convened in his favorite club. But just before, his ashes were brought to a river where he’d rowed and released on a series of rose petals. Four boats with crews of eight watched from the water, his family and friends from shore.
Frank Soldo died August 11, 2015. He was 54 years old.
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