Love Finds a Way

Today we lost a brilliant and beautiful soul, my friend Justin Bruckbauer. When my husband found me crying and I told him, he said that if you are going to let love into your heart, then you have to remember the goodness and joy that he brought into your life.

He was so right. If you met Justin, you couldn’t help but feel the love that he had for everyone who crossed his path. He was accepting, smart as a whip, and so very knowledgeable.

justin
2015–Justin joined us for our annual donation to The Melodies Center. Pictured with me and Dr. Gozman.

Justin taught me that no matter how much my heart breaks, love will always find a way to heal it. He taught me that despite the pain of losing someone special, I am grateful to have known the power of love and soak it in as this is what gets us through the sadness.

I had the privilege to see Justin this past Monday. I felt a sense of urgency to go see him and knew I had to visit. I am so very thankful that I did. We had the most engaging, fun, and fantastic conversation. Justin asked, “You like the Marvel movies, don’t you?” “Yes, I do,” I replied.

And then he was off. Justin talked about which movies came out first and how the infinity stones were entwined in the different series. He showed me the trailers to the new Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 movies, and said how he looked forward to seeing them. I will go watch them in memory of this beautiful young man, who was a superhero to so many.

We talked about Greek, Roman, Norse, and Irish mythology. His faith and knowledge of the Bible and history amazed me. I felt completely at home talking to him about art and writing, and we discussed what other superheroes we could create. We even talked about Wonder Woman, my favorite.

justin2

We could have kept talking forever, and it makes me sad that I won’t have the chance to continue our conversations. But Justin gave me the gift of love on Monday, and I will forever keep my heart open, so I will always know that feeling. It hurts, I know, but the alternative of not sharing my love with kids battling cancer isn’t an option. My heart breaks for his family and especially his incredibly brave and strong momma.

Justin, I know I will see you in my dreams as the superhero you are. Give my boy a hug for me.

Nick’s Warrior Kendra Sisco–Raising Awareness for Young Adults with Cancer

Imagine you are a cheerleader in the midst of your high school career with your whole young life ahead of you. Unfortunately, you trip on a mat during a cheer and injure your knee. If it’s an injury to a ligament it can take time to heal, but you always know that you will get back to what you love to do. Kendra Sisco may not have been able to get back to cheerleading, but that trip may have saved her life. Thinking it was an ACL injury Kendra had to have knee surgery. Unfortunately, the pain continued so she had to have another surgery. Her orthopedic surgeon referred her to an orthopedic oncologist who strongly believed it wasn’t cancer, yet the pain continued. It was after her third knee surgery that Kendra was told she had an increased number of b-cells. Soon after they went to Boston Children’s Hospital and she was diagnosed with b-cell non-hodgkin lymphoma in September 2014–two years after her injury!
Kendra gearing up to battle and kick cancer’s butt!
How do you move past not only stopping what you love, but being diagnosed with cancer in the prime of your life? Well the Sisco way is to give back and never give up. I first met Kendra when she and her family wanted to give back to the foundation and The Melodies Center instead of the other way around. She and her family were incredibly grateful for the Family Hope Bag that they were given when Kendra was diagnosed and Nick’s Comfort Bag that Kendra’s friends actually shopped to fill. For her 16th birthday, Kendra decided to have a birthday party fundraiser. It was an amazing success and the money raised supported The Melodies Center and a future Teen Technology room on the Children’s Hematology/Oncology floor at Albany Medical Center. If that wasn’t enough, Kendra has become involved with the foundation’s teen advisory group Nick’s Round Table. This coming year she will serve as co-Vice President with Erin Doescher.  Kendra is excited to help raise funds and get more teens involved. 
Kendra with her amazing family at the birthday fundraiser.
It’s true that it is tragic to be diagnosed with cancer at any time in your life. However, when you are on the cusp of finding out who you are, becoming independent, and looking toward your bright future, a diagnosis is a huge blow. You know what you are missing out on and you know that people look at you differently. When your life is out of control, you want to find ways to keep making some decisions. When it came to her friends, Kendra told them one by one and that she was open to questions. Of course with the world of social media, many people found out anyway. Some were very scared and others didn’t know how to deal with the situation. 
The friends who got it kept her in the loop as she missed a great deal of her junior year. Her family was her biggest emotional supporter and having met them, I can see where Kendra gets her strength! That emotional support was so important since Kendra could feel how much people cared. That’s the main reason she gives back. Kendra states that, “The Comfort Bag was one of the best things I received. If I could make even one child that is struggling smile or feel better, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
As Nick’s Warrior, Kendra wants to spread awareness to the community about childhood cancer and especially how badly it affects young adults. According to Kendra, being a teenager is hard enough and having to undergo treatment at the same time can be a lot. It’s tough to be different from the other kids. She experienced stares and weird looks. Teens can be judgmental not knowing how to act around someone who doesn’t have hair. Kendra had to be on steroids, which can cause moodiness and weight gain. Add in losing your hair, it’s hard to feel like you fit in. Even though a teenager is sick, it doesn’t mean they stop being teenagers. But Kendra has such a strong spirit, she accepts her differences like she accepts the physical scars from cancer. They are proof that she is truly a warrior of the bravest kind. She has fought the biggest battle of her life and despite the pain she has suffered, she heals through giving back.
If you want to help Kendra fight back against cancer, please register and attend Nick’s Run to be Healed 5K on Sunday, September 27. All information to register and donate can be found on our website. With the Sisco family on the front lines, this year may prove to be the biggest fundraiser yet!
For more info on Nick’s Run go to www.fighttobehealed.org

Letter to Nick

Hey Nick,
Last night was our foundation’s 4th Annual gathering to celebrate 2012.  The whole night really exemplified what your friends, Stephen, and his friends have accomplished. If I could change our lives, I would have you with our family, hanging with your friends, going to your senior prom, and graduating from high school.  Today is Tyler’s 18th birthday and I know the two of you would have been celebrating together. Happy Birthday Tyler. We love you!

Nick (11) and Tyler (12) at our annual July 4th celebration. 
Nick with Tyler at his 13th birthday party.

But as I try to live my life without you physically here, I can’t help but be proud of the legacy you have built.  Yes, we started the foundation in your name, volunteers work tirelessly to raise money to help families in need and come to a meeting on a beautiful evening, but it’s the essence of your spirit that makes the foundation so energetic, compassionate and strong.  The friendships you forged solidified the dedication your friends feel toward this cause. Their enthusiasm attracts other teens who may or may not have been affected by cancer but want to make a difference.  This adds longevity to our mission. Anyone involved in this fight can’t help but want to be a part of it.  There isn’t a stronger emotional connection.

One of your friends, PK Gerstenberger, was honored as Teen Volunteer of the Year for all his hard work with Nick’s Round Table.  I know losing you affected him terribly, but I’m so proud of how he has taken a hard loss and changed it to a wonderful mission.

Nick and PK at their 7th grade chorus concert.

Last night over 70 guests met 3-year-old Parker Ragone who was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 2.  His brilliant eyes and bright smile melted their hearts.  He is your warrior this year–leading the way to let others know his story. His journey will positively affect other children fighting cancer.  My wish is that you will look over Parker, keep him healthy, and we will keep helping children fight cancer in your name.

Parker Ragone–Nick’s Warrior for the 2013 Nick’s Run to be Healed 5K

Always in my heart,
Mom