SCHENECTADY -- As dozens of local firefighters, paramedics and other emergency response professionals gathered at the Van Dyck Lounge Sunday for a fundraiser to honor the life of Lydia Anderson, both family members and friends said her indomitable spirit and insistence on finding light in the face of tragedy was present in the room.
Lydia, who died in November at age 35 after what her family described as a fierce fight with cancer, is survived by her husband, Matt Anderson, and their three children, Jazzy, 10, Maya, 5, and Leo, 1.
Supporters of the Anderson family, as well as Lydia’s family, spent the day eating, drinking and reminiscing about a woman who was, according to everyone there, positive, supportive and brave every day of her life.
Sunday's fundraiser was organized by the Niskayuna Permanent Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 4151, of which Matt Anderson recently became a member.
Lieutenant Patrick Griffiths, who works with Matt Anderson at the fire department, said that there was never any question over whether or not the organization would do something to help support one of its newest members after Lydia’s death.
“As soon as that happened, the community was like, what can we do?” Griffiths said during Sunday's fundraiser, adding that the firefighter’s association started reaching out to neighboring organizations that had hosted similar fundraising efforts in the past for guidance immediately.
What they quickly found, Griffiths said, was a huge willingness from various groups to lend their support in any way that they could, including Mad Jack Brewing, which offered to host the event.
“Lydia was such a dynamic person; the community just stepped up,” Griffiths said.
While financial donations to benefit the family were being collected throughout the event, there was also a raffle that featured more than 70 prizes from local businesses, as well as a silent auction.
At least $10,000 had been raised for the family on Sunday between financial donations at the party and an account set up at CAP COM Federal Credit Union for Lydia’s children.
Over $23,000 had also been raised via a GoFundMe set up for Lydia.
On Sunday, Matt Anderson not only detailed how his wife had been a beacon of strength for both him him and his children, but also for essentially every person she came into contact with.
Upon receiving her diagnosis, he explained, Lydia immediately opted to proceed with things her way, choosing to forgo traditional chemotherapy procedures and instead travel to countries including Germany and Mexico for alternative treatment.
Lydia died while in Mexico for treatment with her sister, Louisa Chiera, while Matt was home in the United States. But from the second she received her diagnosis, Anderson said, Lydia didn’t stop living her life for one moment. Anderson explained that she received her diagnosis the night he was slated to take a major oral paramedic exam.
Upon receiving the news, he said, he offered to skip the test to be by her side. Lydia, he said, told him to take the test. After going to school for 18 months to receive his certification, Anderson said, Lydia would not allow him to let that effort go to waste.
“Lydia, she’s all about family,” he said while sitting with their daughter, Maya, on Sunday.
“I think it’s a testament to the person that she was,” Chiera said on Sunday, sitting with her and Lydia’s brother, Marco Testa. “She walked her talk.”
Lydia's siblings say their sister served as a guiding light for many, someone to rely on during tough times, and Sunday’s outpouring of support from dozens was further proof, they said, of how far reaching their sister’s influence was.
“She was the leader of the family,” Testa said. “She did things her way.”
Even while in Mexico for treatment, Chiera said, Lydia was ready to take on anything that came her way. The entire time she was sick, Testa added, Lydia’s strength in facing challenging obstacles never wavered.
“She would ask us, 'are you scared?' We would say, 'no, are you?' And she would say 'no,'” Testa said.
“She looked absolutely striking and stunning, through the end,” Chiera said. “She had no fear. She was very bold and courageous.”
Those seeking to contribute to the Anderson family can make a donation to the Matt Anderson Trust Fund at any CAP COM Federal Credit Union branch.