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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mary Beth, the child life specialist, and Shade writing together.
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Kassidy, in front, traveled all the way from college in Utica, to make the event.
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Families that journal together have a great deal of fun!
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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!

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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 www.fighttobehealed.org

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 janinecammarata@fighttobehealed.org

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

 

Childhood Cancer Awareness–First Day of School

Today was the first day of school, and I love watching the neighborhood kids take photos and hop on the bus for a new year of excitement and learning. Some may be going to a new building or starting at a different school. Some may connect with old friends or meet new ones. No matter what, it’s a happy day filled with joy and probably some anxiety.

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First day of school in our new house when the boys were 8 and 6.

Nick was diagnosed with leukemia in the summer, so many of his school friends never knew he was sick. Social media wasn’t readily available. We updated family and friends through the CaringBridge website, but when school came around, Nick only went on his first day. No one understood how ill he was. He had been accepted for the DDE program, since he wanted to be a technology teacher, but eventually he had to drop it as he couldn’t keep up with the work.

We hired tutors, but he was so fatigued, he struggled with motivation and learning. Shenendehowa School District was wonderful in that they gave him the basic requirements for homework, but the isolation and missing his classmates was very hard.

It was difficult for Stephen as well, since he and his brother would have been in middle school together. Instead Stephen went on the bus alone, and they missed all those possible memories together. When we lost Nick only two months into the school year, it rocked the school community.

Cancer changes the formative years of children. Losing a classmate is traumatic. Losing a sibling is life-changing and devastating. The ramifications don’t often show up until years later.

When a child with cancer attends school, they deal with side effects, possible infections from a compromised immune system, bullying, isolation, and misunderstanding. A child doesn’t have to look sick to have cancer, so it’s important to create empathy and educate students on what a child with cancer or any other chronic or life-threatening illness is going through. What an opportunity to teach compassion and make a difference in someone’s life.

Besides missing out on so many wonderful memories, the world lost the potential of Nick, someone who wanted to use technology to help others, who enjoyed working with younger children and making them smile.

Today I remember all the children who are no longer with us and their parents who struggle with those firsts every single year. And I send support and hugs to our children in treatment who missed their first day. I hope you get back to school soon.

Be aware that someone might be struggling more than you know. Show compassion and you might give them that reason to smile.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness, but every day is the chance to be kind.

September-Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

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This is the last family photo we have of us together. It was Labor Day weekend 2008, and our family convened to share the love and laughter that has always carried us through hard times.

Nick had developed an infection, had appendicitis, and spent most of September in the hospital. It’s like a time warp. The world continued around us, people came and went, but we were stuck in this cocoon of uncertainty. I had always assumed Nick would survive, but with the heavy doses of methotrexate he had received, the infection became life threatening.

As a parent of a child with any life threatening illness, it’s very difficult to make the right decision. We were exhausted, scared, and not familiar with this disease. We had multiple doctors giving their suggestions and sometimes it was like throwing a dart. Nick continued to decline, but we still rallied surrounded by hope and the need to believe that he would be alright.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. It’s one of my lowest months of the year, because my heart remembers how much Nick suffered. I didn’t journal much in that month and really I don’t want to remember the details.

It is 10 years since Nick battled cancer. Time doesn’t heal, and it doesn’t make it acceptable that I lost my oldest son. It doesn’t mean I’m over it or that I’m always OK.

10 years later, I’m living with Nick’s loss beside me. Sometimes the grief is a burden I have to carry, and it weighs heavily on me. Other times I can stand tall and walk alongside it and hold others up.

I share this because I want those who have lost their child to know that I am here with them. I will walk alongside them, so they know that some day they will be able to walk alongside their grief. Grief is chronic. It flairs up, it eases off, and then ruptures into painful boils, scabs over, and starts again.

I may never be whole, but I can live a fulfilling life. You might not believe it right now and that’s OK. I’ll be with you through this journey no matter what point you are at.

Taking action, raising awareness, demanding better treatments for our children battling cancer is the path of those who are on this journey with me. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but every day too many children are diagnosed.

Remembering Nick on Independence Day

July 4 is a day to celebrate independence and the freedom our forefathers fought for us to have every day. 10 years ago, it became the day Nick was diagnosed with leukemia.

I believe there is emotional scar tissue with trauma. As July 4 approaches, I feel lethargic, sad, and loaded down with the grief I work to overcome every day. My mind and body know what’s coming. Once July 4 starts, even though I don’t relive all the terrible moments of his cancer journey, part of my mind and body remembers it. The emotions find their way to the surface.

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July 4, 1999

But just as there is emotional scar tissue, there also is emotional endurance that fortifies me with a strong foundation to get back up when the scar tissue limits my ability to live life to my fullest.

 

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July 4, 2008–the day Nick was diagnosed

What gives me this endurance? Surrounding myself with family and friends who lift me up. Those who came the day we heard the news, took care of us when we had to say goodbye, and have supported us over the last 10 years.

They know when I’m faltering, when Stephen needs space, when Luke needs a distraction. I don’t have to say a word, because they know today is a very hard day, but we live it remembering an amazing, enthusiastic, and fun boy who was taken took soon.

Over the years, I have learned what I need to do to break up the scar tissue and provide self-care. Sometimes, I do really well, and I think yes, I can do this. When I think of Nick I smile and reminisce about my two energetic boys who were inseparable.

Other times, I’m flat on the floor, as another friend described it, and I can’t imagine going through the rest of my life without one of my sons to hold, talk to, and share his life experiences with. These are the times when my foundation of family and friends soften my fall and stretch the scar tissue until I can stand again.

I’m in a place today where I am searching for the good. I am grateful for Stephen and so very proud of him. He is doing what he needs to do to live with his loss, and I respect that. My husband is my biggest foundation and knows when he has to catch me. I try to catch him as well. We are continually learning what we each need and give one another the space to grow and grieve.

When I fall and take a hard hit, I give myself permission to reach out. I know I don’t have to be strong all the time. I’m not. I can’t be. Last month was one of those times, and I am grateful for my family and friends for saving me from falling off the cliff.

Losing a child is not an easy journey. Having a child with cancer is not easy either. It’s a road of ups and downs, fears and triumphs. Cancer steals more than our independence.

Today I wish everyone a Happy and healthy 4th of July. For those missing their children, have people to catch you when you fall. We are here for you. For our families currently battling, never give up and keep fighting. For everyone touched by a life-threatening disease, savor every moment and always have hope.

Much love to my boy.  We have lots of Double Bubble to give at the parade. Always in my heart.

Gillette Carnival is in Town!

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It’s that magical time of year when cotton candy, fried dough, and spinning rides are the highlights of a child’s life. The Gillette Carnival is in town!

The Gillette family has always donated a part of its proceeds to different charities. For the last two years, Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation has been one of the recipients. Their support is greatly appreciated as is the support of the Loiselle family who made this happen.

This year’s carnival is June 5-June 10 at The Town of Halfmoon park. The very best part of this carnival is on June 7, when it’s Melodies Center Family night! From 6-10pm, children battling cancer get a free pass on all the rides, which is donated by Gillette. They have a night of fun and not worrying about their treatment or how cancer has completely flipped their lives upside down.

Contact Courtney Hill at The Melodies Center if you and your family would like to go.

Gillette Carnival 2018 Flier

Their parents can take a break, because teens from Nick’s Round Table will be there to join them on the rides.

One of my greatest joys in forming Nick’s Fight to be Healed is hearing laughter and see smiles on our children’s faces. It’s takes more than medicine to heal a child and that is why we here. Gillette Carnival is making our job even easier.

For more information on the show, visit Gillette Shows

 

Holidays

Woke up this morning not really excited about Thanksgiving. Part of me wants to stay in bed and avoid the day. Why? I think back on my dreams. Nick visited. Reality hits. Oh yeah. Sadness. No matter how many years go by, sadness, regret, loss, and pain will always be there on a holiday.

I think about the families who are having their first Thanksgiving without their child. For the first two or three holidays, I set a plate at the table for Nick. I needed that space for him to know that we would always love him and he was remembered.

I also had a candle burning near a photo of him and my dad welcoming them. We have Thanksgiving at my sister, Michele’s house. She gave me that space and knew we needed it. That is key to being with grief, and I love her for that.

Then after a while I didn’t need that space. It wasn’t because I forgot Nick or got over the loss. Neither will ever happen. I learned that his place is within and around me. The photo and candle stayed adding a photo of Luke’s dad when he passed.

Now I think of Nick. I remember stories of him, his funny faces, and smile.

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His love of cream puffs and Grands. The joy all the kids felt being together. It’s not the same. It never will be. So on my holiday mornings, I spend time with Nick. I write to him. I be with him as he is now. When I can come the holidays like that, then I can be with what is. I can find joy in the moment, right now.

Just like I make sure Nick and I have that special time together, I do the same with Stephen, Luke, and my family.

If you are missing your child today or any loved one, give yourself the time to be with them. Take those precious moments to feel their light and let your feelings flow. Then be with those who are sitting around your Thanksgiving table and soak in their love.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Thanksgiving.

We are There for You

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Know we are here for you.

The uncertainty of cancer can often be the largest stressor when your child is diagnosed. Not knowing if the treatment is working, how you will get time off from work, what the prolonged separations will do to your other children or your family unit, or where the money will come from to pay the growing bills.

Within a month of Nick being diagnosed, my friend Jen at the library said that Gina from the Catie Hoch Foundation wanted to give us gas and food gift cards. I was floored that someone would want to help a total stranger in such a basic way. We were OK, and I didn’t think I should take it when others probably needed it more.

Gina came to the library and gave me the cards. I learned something that day. Sometimes people know what you need more than you do. I accepted them, thanked her, and knew she was there if we needed anything else.

I used the cards when the daily trips to the hospital and doctors took their toll. It helped us financially, but it did more than that. Her outreach gave us that sense of community, of being cared for, of being seen, and comforted.

I never thought I would be in the same place that Gina was with her foundation. Yet here we are. I have always remembered that sense of camaraderie I felt from someone who had been on the same road as me. One of the first services Nick’s Fight to be Healed provided was financial assistance to families. Just in the last month we have supported families with gift cards for food and travel. We have paid to keep the heat on and for mortgages.

These are essentials that everyone needs to remain healthy, safe, and secure. Providing these services reduce stress, but these acts do so much more. When we send a gift card with a handwritten note, we really mean it when we say we are here for you. In addition to assisting with the financial details, we are a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, arms to wrap around you when the journey feels impossible. We are kindred spirits who have been where you have been. And even if we haven’t, as people fueled by love, we open our arms to you.

It takes more than medicine and stress reducers to get a family through a cancer diagnosis and back on the road to life. It takes people who will dig deep no matter how painful to show our families that they matter, they are cared for, loved, and valued. That they are human beings going through one of the hardest times in their lives and sometimes just need a simple hug. Or a tap dance and kiss from Chloe, our pet therapy dog.

I am so very proud of what our foundation does, as well as what the other foundations do to give back and raise up our beautiful families. Today I send out a big hug to everyone who needs it and an even bigger thank you to the selfless volunteers and staff who give their hearts, because they simply couldn’t do it any other way.

Milestones

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Last night I finally watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2. I thought of Justin and how much he loved the comic book movies and wanted to see this one. Then I thought of milestones. Justin passed away on January 27, 2017. He wasn’t here for the opening night of this movie or for the rest of the many more coming out this year.

Justin would be going into his junior year. It’s another milestone that repeatedly breaks his mom’s heart. These milestones that hit us like a ton of bricks will continue for the rest of our lives.

Once the college graduations of Nick’s peers were over, I thought there would be a reprieve. However, then the jobs come, the weddings, and the babies. There will always be a milestone that will bring up the pain of losing my son to cancer. It doesn’t lessen the joy I feel for those who are living their lives, it just another hurt that I carry with me.

Looking at Justin’s beautiful smile, you know he was full of life. He loved his mother, his family, his books. Today, I remember Justin, because of all what he taught us, and also because of his potential that was cut short by cancer.

We cannot turn away from what children with cancer go through. We have to raise money for new and improved treatments that provide less side effects. We need to support the families whose lives have been split by this disease. And we absolutely need to support the parents and kids who have lost a member of their family.

Take action and spread the word. Much love to Justin, his mom, and family.

Luke’s Legacy

Everyone has a legacy. As parents we hope our legacy will live through our children.  But as a parent who has lost a child, I have learned that our children create their own legacies and have their own paths.

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Luke Romano’s Legacy lives on, because of the clear vision he had on how he wanted to live his life and how he wanted to be remembered. I am always in awe when our kids with cancer see beyond their illnesses, their fears, their deaths. Luke impressed me with not only his maturity, but his foresight to ask that our families join forces in order to help other kids more effectively as they go through their cancer journey.

Not many adults would look beyond the ego and see the greater good. Luke did and his legacy continues with providing amazing pillows to teens in the comfort bags. The Family Hope Bags are given to newly diagnosed patients so that their parents can focus on their diagnosis and not where their next meal is coming from when their children are suddenly inpatient at the hospital. His legacy continues by providing scholarships to kids to make the world a better place and raise awareness and increase empathy for teens and young adults about the emotional and physical effects of cancer.

I remember Luke today not because this is the day he passed away. I remember Luke today, because he reminds me of all the work that still has to be done. He gives me the strength to keep going, because he would have done the same. His legacy inspires us to never give up and provide support so that kids with cancer can live fulfilling lives the way they want to. So that they can grow their own legacy.

Thinking of you today, Lucas and hoping you and Nick are proud of what we have done in your memories. You continue to guide us.

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 ❤️

Smashing Cancer!

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Regan and Abby

On Sunday, March 19, Nick’s Round Table’s fundraising chair, Sarah Collins, organized a fundraiser at Smashburgers in Clifton Park. She and other members worked hard to spread the word. Regan, who is currently battling cancer and Abby, who is done with her treatment joined Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation for their first fundraiser at Smashburger’s in Clifton Park. This was the first time Abby ever had a burger, and it would appear that the Smashburger Kids’ meal was a success!

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My husband, Luke, and his U12 Clifton Park A-team had just played a soccer game and came in all hungry and ready to chow down for a great cause!

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Siblings were happy to join in!

 

 

167 people joined us during this fundraiser. Smashburger donated $2 for every person who ordered an entree or kids’ meal. As a benefit they had a 1/2 off milkshake special and 71 people took advantage of it! I heard they are the best in the area!

Thank you to Leo and Sue Butera for your support and donating $334 to Nick’s Round Table that will be used to support local children battling cancer! Thanks to everyone who came out to eat!

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Karen Patchell, didn’t have Chloe with her, but rather good friends, Kathy and Craig!