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 ❤️

A Force to be Reckoned With

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This past Sunday, an amazing group came together to not only raise money for Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation, but also provide a place and a path to healing and breakthroughs. Karen Patchell has spearheaded our Flow to be Healed program at The Melodies Center, and we are working on a program for parents as well.

Two Baptiste teachers, Sheryl and Tanya led and assisted the class speaking of all that is possible no matter where you are in your life. Two other teachers, Jess and Carly were participating, and their presence strengthened me as I dedicated my practice that day to Nick. Others were volunteers who help our children as they battle cancer. While others were on their own cancer journey, but were in a supportive atmosphere where illness was left at the door. Some may have come to do yoga, but left with a new perspective.

We are a force to be reckoned with. It doesn’t matter where you are in your life. Everyone has a journey, a story, a current fight, feelings of sadness, fear, or trauma. This amazing yoga community creates a holding space where you can go and be with whatever feeling is within you that day. You have a place to let it out. Having this force of support gives me strength.

Maybe it’s not yoga for you, but it can be. Maybe it’s the community of parents going through the same situation. A child fighting for her life. You are in the same place because of circumstances, but connected by the force of hope that will always rise in you.

Whether it’s doctors, nurses, child life specialists, social workers, family, friends or volunteers–we are a force that is more powerful than cancer. We are a force that will hold you until you can stand on your own two feet once again. We will hold your place until you return. Nothing is Impossible.

Flow to be Healed Yoga Program

Announcing Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation’s new Flow to be Healed Yoga program at The Bernard & Millie Duker’s Children’s Hospital in The Melodies Center!

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One of our biggest missions is how to reduce stress for the entire family when a child is diagnosed with cancer. We have focused on helping with financial needs and emergency items for initial diagnosis, and anything that will distract, comfort, and keep a child connected to those they love. It’s healing, effective, amazing work.

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Karen Patchell, creator of Flow to be Healed yoga program at The Melodies Center doing a pose with Bella Caruso, while she is receiving chemotherapy.

But when you can teach a child that everything they need to fight stress, fear, pain, and frustration is within, then you empower them to be the captain of their own vessel. They have an internal tool that they can literally use anywhere! Bella loves the games and the stretching. She even showed her mom some of the poses when she got home!

Karen has been a part of Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation since its inception. A second mom to Nick and Stephen, she has dedicated much of her life to helping kids with cancer. When Karen decided to become a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) for children, she found her calling. She slowly brought yoga into The Melodies Center with fun games like blowing up a balloon to teach about breath or sharing books on yoga that featured different animals and how they represent yoga poses.

This was positively received by the staff at the clinic, and the program began on Friday February 17, 2017.

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Not only is the dragon on the mat a symbol of our foundation, but it is a focus point. Focusing on an object or stationary point is calming, because it stills the body and brain and helps maintain balance in standing poses. It also allows the children to move their bodies in a safe way instead of looking around at distractions.

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Karen standing in tree pose with Amelia and Bella.

Amelia pictured in purple was one of Karen’s first students and was thrilled to be there for the first gathering. Her mom says, “She LOVED it and I think it is great….it’s something relaxing for the kids to do but fun as well.”

Not only is yoga fun, but it helps the children deal with the uncertainty and pain that can come with cancer treatment. Karen teaches a type of breathing called Lion’s Breath where you inhale, then open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and breathe out with a roar. Concentrating on breath, takes their mind off of the anxiety or discomfort of getting their port accessed, for example. The action gives them control in a situation where they don’t have much at all.

Rob Saba, Director of Development, Grateful Patients and Families at Albany Medical Center, happened to be giving a tour when he came upon the yogis practicing. Rob shared how this program provides not only much needed distraction, but socialization and interaction, which helps heal.

 

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Anyone can do yoga. Even a child connected to an IV pole.

A child’s cancer journey can last up to three years and sometimes longer. Angie Silipigno, Child Life Specialist, at The Melodies Center is excited about this program because they are always looking for new and innovative ways for children to improve their experience. Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation has always recognized that it takes more than medicine to heal a child.

Angie writes, “As I observed the first session of Flow in clinic last week, I saw wonderful things happening . . . Two young girls socializing with one another, engaging in physical activity despite the presence of tubing and IV poles, the passing of time in a positive way, exploration of their bodies, and above all, lots of laughter.  One of the best parts of this program is that it can be used with any age patient, as well as parents and other caregivers . . . At a time when a patient may be feeling self-conscious about their bodies or their physical abilities, this can be utilized to help them become more aware of their body using breathing, relaxation and stretching to establish an improved level of comfort and empowerment . . . Karen has a warm and welcoming presence. She has such a natural ability to assess a patient’s comfort level within a brief moment and meet them right where they are.”

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That’s the healing power of yoga. Accepting where you are at the present moment and making the most of it. Despite the fact that these children are battling cancer, they can heal through connections, yoga poses, and laughter.

 

Nick Cammarata–The Catalyst

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My oldest son, Nick, was born after two years of trying to get pregnant and 12 hours of back-breaking natural labor on October 7, 1995. From the moment Nick was born, he was enthusiastic, warm, happy, and had a light that burned so brightly in him. His sense of humor was over the top and he was very outgoing.

Nick started swimming competitively at age 9. In January of 2008, I noticed his fatigue, but pushed it off. In June 2008, he struggled with ear infections, which wasn’t anything new, but this time a rash occurred from antibiotics or so we thought. On July 4, 2008, my healthy, exuberant son was diagnosed with T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. He didn’t go into remission after the first month, which started a path of the toughest chemo that ruined his body inside and out. He struggled with allergic reactions, infections, fatigue, vomiting, had to have his appendix removed and part of his colon. Everything that could have gone wrong did.

He spent most of September in the hospital in pain and all I could do was hold my baby and try to ease his pain. He turned 13 on October 7, 2008, he went into remission on October 18 and planned to get a bone marrow transplant. My birthday was on October 19, his little brother Stephen turned 11 on October 21. On October 26, 2008, Nick passed away suddenly from a spontaneous brain hemorrhage from the chemotherapy. October is a tough month for our family.

My heart cracks a bit more at this time every year. I try not to relive what my son went through, but it’s hard. Instead I think about all that Nick has done. By taking the path that he did whether or not he or his soul chose it, veered us toward a much different path than we had thought when we first had children. You don’t think you will be burying one. If Nick never had cancer, we would not have started Nick’s Fight to be Healed. Our services may not have occurred. It amazes me what Nick’s life and passing has brought to this world.

It’s a hard path. It’s sad, heartbreaking and relentless. But just when I think I’m done, that I can’t go through another day, Nick shows me someone who needs my help; he sends a light to ease my darkness. These contrasts of good and bad, dark and light, life and death. This is what living is all about. And every day he and all the other children who battle prove to me that no matter how full of despair I feel, there is always hope.

Read these stories that will be shared every day during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Think of our children fighting for their lives and act. Whether it’s liking or sharing a photo or post, pasting our logo that raises awareness onto your social media, sending a note or care package to a child with cancer, making a donation at http://www.fighttobehealed.org or volunteering. Do something every day in September, because each time you do, you are the one spreading hope.