Nick’s Fight to Be Healed Foundation held the second annual “Dance to be Healed” event for Capital Region children battling cancer and their families on Saturday at the Park Manor Hotel in Clifton Park.
Nick Cammarata of Clifton Park was 12 years old when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He died four months later in 2008 at the age of 13.
Jeanine Cammarata, Nick’s mother, started the organization in his name in 2009. The volunteer-run nonprofit seeks to support children diagnosed with cancer and their families through assistance with co-pays, rents and mortgages, or any of the other significant costs associated with caring for a child with cancer.
Jeanine Cammarata said Dance to be Healed is a way for children who are fighting cancer to enjoy life and each other outside of the hospital setting.
“They get a safe place where they can just not think about cancer for the night,” said Cammarata. “They get to be in the present moment, not worry about going to clinic, just have fun. And they also get to bond with each other and see each other outside of clinic.”
Cammarata said there were 17 families with children battling cancer at the dance, ranging in age from 2 to 18. The children are all being treated at the Bernard and Millie Duker Children’s Hospital Melodies Center at Albany Medical Hospital.
The dance this year was attended by two special guests, Abby Sayles and Matt Hickling, who were faux-wed last year at Albany Med. Abby, who was diagnosed with Leukemia last October, was 4 when she announced to her mother one day that she was getting married to her nurse, Hickling.
Her mother, Renee Sayles, said Abby, now 5, was inspired by an uncle who had recently announced his engagement. Hickling was brought on board and organized a ceremony at the hospital, complete with bridesmaids (a social worker and a child life specialist at the hospital) and flowers donated by Enchanted Garden Florist in Delmar. Hospital staff who attended the wedding hummed “Here Comes the Bride.”
A video of the ceremony, complete with Abby in a play wedding dress, went viral last summer and racked up over 13 million views.
Renee Sayles said the community of families of kids with cancer made a huge difference in her family’s fight for Abby.
“I already knew we had the support of the community and that honestly is what made everything easier for us, Nick’s Fight to be Healed and Jeanine, she’s an amazing woman,” said Sayles. “Just having that community makes the process of chemotherapy easier.”
The dance this year was a big to-do: many of the children had their hair done by volunteers at local salons. Photography for the event was donated by Elizabeth Fox Photography. There was a photo booth and a slide show featuring the children, as well as a craft station, DJ and dance floor, food and drink.
“It’s just a way that they can de-stress,” said Cammarata, of the children. “And it gives the parents a chance to have a good time and dress up too.”
Hickling’s presence at the dance, and that of Jennifer Pearce, a pediatric oncologist at Albany Med, is illustrative of how close-knit the community of families is in the area with children who are fighting cancer.
“It’s not a family that you would choose to be part of, but once your child is diagnosed you become a part of our family,” said Cammarata.
She added that Albany Med diagnoses around 90 children a year with cancer, and is presently treating about 900 kids a year. Typically when a child is diagnosed, one of the parents has to quit work, and the family can lose a significant amount of income, said Cammarata. Nick’s Fight to be Healed seeks to fill in the gaps that inevitably arise for families fighting cancer.
“There’s such a need, and the community is wonderful so we just keep going because they inspire us,” said Cammarata.
Pearce, who officiated the “wedding” between Hickling and Sayles, said at the dance that the community that’s grown up around children with cancer does an outstanding job of supporting each other.
“This is a phenomenal community,” said Pearce. “It floors me how much support they give back, and it means so much to the families financially and emotionally to feel that they’re part of a very caring community.”
Pearce, who’s worked in pediatric oncology for 31 years, said to see the children she treats outside the hospital setting having fun brings her a great amount of joy.
“To see my kids in party mode is really fun,” said Pearce. “We do have a pretty fun atmosphere at clinic, but obviously a lot of things happen there that are not very nice. So to have something like this where everyone is here for fun, . . . it means a lot to them and it means a lot to us.”
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