Family Connections

What does a 17-year-old and a 9-year-old have in common? Music–both love hip hop and Ariana Grande; arts and crafts–making Valentine hearts to decorate their rooms; beautiful hats; journaling; laughter.

Their cancer diagnoses may forced them to stay in the hospital, but their gorgeous smiles portray their love of life and need for connection. Whether it’s in the hospital, at a coffee shop, at a YMCA, or someone’s home, Family Connections, an emotional support program through Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation, brings families and patients together to share their stories, heal, have fun, and forget about cancer for a while.

Shade and Angelica spending time together.

That same night the first Family Connections of the year was held at the Pediatric Behavioral Health building at Albany Med. Nick’s Fight works with the social workers and Child Life Specialists at The Melodies Center to make these events happen. Thank you to Mary Beth, Katie, DeeDee, and Meghan for helping to organize this night.


The entire family is welcome and dinner is always served. It’s one less detail parents have to think about, so they and their children can have an easy and enjoyable night.


Stories are shared and the rest of the evening is split between learning different journal writing techniques and restorative yoga. The groups split between younger children for more playful yoga and creative journaling, then the adults/young adults practice restorative yoga and equally creative journaling, but with deeper journal prompts.

Thank you to Sydney Joyce and her Girl Scout Troop #2328 in Clifton Park for donating and writing positive quotes in each journal.

Everyone who attends receives a Nick’s Fight journal or journals that are generously donated by the community.

Our stories are important. Sharing them can be healing, and they can also help someone else going through a similar journey to feel hope and bond with that person. We had three young adults, one who is a long-term survivor from a bone marrow transplant, another who is in the midst of having side effects from hers, and another preparing to go to transplant. Those shared stories had such a positive effect on everyone, and it created a sense of unity and sacred space.

We wrote about what brought us joy, how we could be present right where we are, and personalized the journals to make them ours.

Mary Beth, the child life specialist, and Shade writing together.
Kassidy, in front, traveled all the way from college in Utica, to make the event.
Families that journal together have a great deal of fun!
Thank you Lynn for sharing the yoga program in Karen’s place.

Being in bed for hours and not having space to move or stretch can cause stress on the body and mind. The Flow to be Healed Yoga Program created by Karen Patchell allows anyone to do yoga no matter where they are in their journey. It’s about creating space on your mat and in your mind to accept what your body can do right in this moment and do it!

Shade and Alyssa met tonight and formed an immediate bond!

No matter where you are, there is hope. No matter where you are in your cancer journey, there is Family Connections. Any family of The Melodies Center is welcome. For more information, contact Janine or visit our website at

If you’d like to donate journals or gift cards for dinner, they can be mailed to NFTBHF, PO Box 217, Rexford, NY 12148 or contact Janine at

Jack, a teen volunteer, and Chase have developed a deep friendship through this program.


To All the Warriors

Today is 9 years since Nick was diagnosed with cancer. 9 years since his own independence was taken away and then his precious life. 

Contrasts have been a major theme for me this week and it’s been tough. I think about all the children and young adults who are battling cancer right now. Some have just found out that their lives have changed, some are healed, some have relapsed one, two, three times, some are away getting transplants, and some are saying goodbye to their families. 

For each and every one of them, cancer has taken away their freedom to live a happy and fulfilling life. It has yanked them off their path and thrown them into a war. It has irrevocably changed their lives and their families. 

It breaks my heart and is difficult to live with. 

But then I see the joy that our kids find through the tragedy, the loss, and the restrictions. They understand what they can no longer do. But instead of letting it defeat them; instead of allowing cancer to take away their independence, they fight and treasure what they are able to do. 

I have often been impressed by their tenacity, altruism, and determination. I have cried from their loss, but refuse to let it break me, because they don’t give up. 

Today I remember my boy, Luke, Justin, Reese, and all the other children and teens who never gave up, but fell in battle. I honor those who are fighting so hard like Zach, Markel, and everyone else in the throes of their battle. 

Today we remember our freedom, and I thank everyone who keeps us safe. My heart and love goes out to those who fight a different battle every day of their lives. 

Miss you, Nick ❤️

Love for Liam


Liam has had a long and hard battle. He has relapsed twice and had to go to Rochester for a bone marrow transplant. We are lucky in that Golisano’s Children’s Hospital is an option for transplants, and young adults, such as Kayla, who go to college in Rochester take it upon themselves to bring comfort bags to patients and visit. Kaya met Liam and helped him get through that hard time.

I first met Liam and his mom when he was inpatient at The Melodies Center in Albany. I walked in, and Liam was watching a cartoon show on TV. He was totally engaged in it, and so I talked to his mom for a bit about our kids, what Liam was going through, and just life. Parents need a break to take care of themselves, reset their frame of mind, and get fresh air. I remember never wanting to leave Nick, and the only time I did was if my husband was there with him. I felt like I had to do everything, and it wore me down.

There is nothing wrong with taking time to go for a walk, getting coffee with a friend, finding a quiet spot and breaking down. If we don’t take care of ourselves, then how can we be mentally and physically fit enough to care for our sick children and make critical decisions? It is not something a parent should feel guilty about and yet we still do.

As we spoke, I pulled out a Lego set, and BAM! Liam’s eyes caught mine, and his face split into a huge smile! Apparently I hit the jackpot. Liam loves Legos. It takes a small gesture, the touch of a hand, a hug, a gift, or a word of encouragement that can make a child’s day brighter. I also gave Liam’s mom and his sister some lotion and body spray. Nothing like some body care products to brighten a gal’s day! But to have something fresh and new to give hope is so important!

This is why we work so hard–to bring a smile, to give hope, to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Liam’s mom knows that these kids are the strongest, bravest, and wonderful fighters. This is a common theme that all the parents have said about their kids. They endure more than most grownups could. They are true heroes. Seeing other kids getting through their journey and thriving, the medical staff, and their faith helps.

Of course visits from friends and someone reaching out a helping hand can go a long way. What can you do today for someone you know battling cancer? Don’t wait until tomorrow or think that someone else is doing it. You don’t know how your caring gesture might impact that person. Show love. You may just save their life.

Markel–Living Life Her Way


Imagine being in the midst of your college life, finally reaching toward independence, figuring out who you are as an individual, having fun meeting new people, and suddenly you feel that something is wrong. As an athlete, Markel was in good shape, but she began to feel ill and out of breath.

Now imagine that she is immediately thrust into a world of cancer, horrid medicines, no longer attending classes, and has to depend on her family once again. Her brush with college life and all the fun and self-discovery that goes with it has been shattered.

But Markel now has a new path of self-discovery. Yes it’s one she never would have thought to venture down, but has done so with her head held high, with a positive perspective, and always a hand reaching out to help another child, teen, or young adult battling.

I always see photos of Markel giving back with fellow cancer survivors like Rachael Murray and her Trending 4 Fashion show, or I see photos of her at the clinic with other survivors like Dante or Justin. Her smile makes you feel like everything is going to be all right as she gives you a big, warm hug.

Markel has had her ups and downs with her treatment. The complications have been numerous, including infections, seizures, and allergic reactions to transfusions. Markel was in remission, but in June 2015, she relapsed and on October 7, 2015 (which is Nick’s bday), she had a bone marrow transplant. Even out in Rochester, Nick’s Fight supported Markel and her mom and volunteers visit. Markel’s final biopsy showed no leukemia or Philadelphia chromosome present!

Markel knows that the support from staff at The Melodies Center, family, friends, and new cancer family friends helped her get through. Her family’s faith gave them the strength they didn’t know they had.

So where does Markel go from here? Children are extremely brave and strong whether they are 1 or 20. Markel knows that help is needed. Advocacy, funding, research, and education are essential for finding cures and making treatment less invasive to reduce long-term side effects.

Along with taking college courses, Markel takes action by volunteering for St. Baldrick’s and other events that raise money to help children and young adults fight cancer. Markel is part of our world’s future. That thought makes me smile very brightly, because I know we’ll be in great hands.

Persistence is the Defining Factor to Move Forward in Life

Kassidy celebrating life five years cancer free–September 2012

When something so extreme and personally devastating such as cancer hits you as a child or young adult, it’s very easy for that diagnosis and your journey through it to be the defining factor in your life.  To be known as the child who beat cancer or who gave back despite the incredible hurdles faced is wonderful, gratifying, and I’m sure anyone who can say that they beat cancer is proud of it.  But when does life become more than the cancer journey? Yes having cancer permanently changes your life, but does that moment in time completely define who you are or can you move past it to who you are meant to be?

Kassidy Krenzer was diagnosed when she was only six years old–a child who just wanted to play with her friends and be carefree. Cancer changed that for her and after a relapse, bone marrow transplant and seven years of frustration and side effects, she finally celebrated being cancer free.  Despite horrendous odds, Kassidy persisted in her determination to beat cancer. 

But now as a high school student, she is persistent in making sure that she isn’t defined by cancer. It’s something that happened to her.  She celebrates the amazing moments in her life, she plays tennis, attends her school dances, makes new friends, and goes away to camp during the summer. She is doing what she should have been doing the last seven years.

Don’t let any disease, chronic illness, tragedy, or loss, be your defining moment.  Let the strength you drew from, the persistence that pushed you forward, and your desire to be known for who you are despite your adversity define you.

A Little Faith Goes a Long Way

For me, faith is believing in the unknown and that a higher power is guiding me through my life’s journey. For Nick Bowen, faith is knowing that God has a plan for him and that his family will always back him up as he pursues that plan.  It took a huge leap of faith to believe that he would be healed when Nick nearly died from a brain hemorrhage at age 11.  Nick Bowen is featured in Chapter Two of my book What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer.

Many years have passed since that Father’s Day when his family almost lost him.  Today Nick is a successful 24-year-old who lives with inoperable tumors.  Knowing that life can be taken away as quickly as it has been given, Nick lives his life filled with passion, laughter and love for his family and those that need his support.  Looking at Nick you don’t have to ask if he’s angry with his lot in life, with God’s plan for him–it’s plain to see that he has embraced his cancer, his life, his plan.  He doesn’t waste energy on the past, the what if’s, why me, or what will happen tomorrow.  He lives his life today and it’s freeing.

Nick Bowen (center) with his brother Ben speaking to guests at the book launch for What Makes Them Amazing.

Perhaps we can learn something from him. I know that one young lady may have been influenced. For the second time in four years, Brianna Chase is fighting Leukemia. Her family lives in Hudson, NY, but Brianna and her mother have been living in NYC as she received a bone marrow transplant.  Despite continual complications, illnesses, and pain, Brianna has found strength through her family and friends to keep fighting.  She also has looked to her faith to get her through. 

Brianna just recently found out that despite having new cells coursing through her body, she would have to receive 11 more months of chemotherapy.  This news nearly broke her. Of course we all want to live, but how does a 15-year-old find the strength to keep fighting, to feel good about herself, her body, and her time away from her family?  The morning after Brianna told her mom she didn’t want to do this anymore, she woke up revived, renewed, and resisting negativity.  I don’t know what went through Brianna’s mind that night, but I’m sure she did a lot of soul searching, praying, and deciding how she was going to live her life. 

Brianna shines as she takes a walk enjoying the fresh air after a long journey through a bone marrow transplant.

This photo was taken after Brianna decided she wanted to do what was needed to live a full and purposeful life.  It was also the first time she was out in public without a wig.  Her spirit is glowing and her zest for life is apparent.  Having faith in ourselves and a higher power allows us to embrace our purpose. When we can truly embrace our lives and all that comes with it, we are free to enjoy the present moment and heal our lives. 

Brianna and Nick are two precious young adults who have faith that they can beat cancer and live the life they are meant to lead.  So when you are faced with anything in life that threatens to beat you down, have a little faith that you have what it takes to get through.  Both Nick and Brianna will probably add that praying can only help.

To learn more about Brianna’s continued journey go to Support Brianna Chase