A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, but there is always a bright side.
That fact is pointed out again and again in a new book, “What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer,” by Janine De Tillio Cammarata of Clifton Park.
Cammarata lost her son, Nick, to cancer in 2008 at age 13. Although his death brought with it overwhelming grief, Cammarata and her family have also been graced with many gifts as a result of the journey.
Where to buy
• “What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer” will be on sale at The Melodies of Christmas show at Proctors today, Friday and Saturday, before the 7 p.m. show, during intermission and after the show; and also Sunday before the 3 p.m. show, during intermission and after the show.
• It can also be purchased at MochaLisa’s Caffe, The Meat House and East Line Books, all in Clifton Park, as well as online at www.fighttobehealed.org.
Join Nick’s Round Table
Any teen in sixth grade or above can be a part of the group, which provides support for teens with cancer. For more information, visit www.fighttobehealed.org or call 877-8211.
Nine of those gifts — local teens and young adults fighting cancer who have come into her life — are featured in “What Makes Them Amazing.” That number includes her son.
Convinced that their stories would be of benefit to others, Cammarata set out to record them in her book.
One chapter is devoted to each young person — their struggle with cancer, and what makes them each amazing.
“I was really struck by their strength and their determination to live their lives as they wanted, but also how they wanted to give back to their peers with cancer,” Cammarata said.
Despite their diagnoses, the young people have gone on to volunteer in the community and to offer comfort and support to other children fighting cancer.
Cammarata aims to give back as well — all proceeds generated from the book will be donated to the Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Albany Medical Center.
The book opens with the story of Sammie Sagnelli of Clifton Park, a bubbly 14-year-old freshman at Shenendehowa High School. She was diagnosed in 2008 with stage three non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, after it was discovered that she had a massive tumor growing at the back of her skull.
“I was so young, 9 at the time, and I didn’t really know what cancer even was,” she admitted. “I knew it was a disease, but couldn’t really be afraid of it. I just thought that people go through this.”
Sammie went through months of chemotherapy, which weakened her body and made her hair fall out.
The path to recovery was no picnic, and there were “a lot of bumps in the road.” But she doesn’t like to dwell on the dark side of cancer.
“I know it’s kind of weird to say I’m thankful for my cancer, because it’s a horrible thing, but though it did happen to me, so many good things came out of it,” she said.
The experience offered her an opportunity to help other families who are living with cancer and has motivated her to volunteer.
“I feel like it just gave me a whole new perspective on life, and that you should never take it for granted,” Sammie said. “I think it’s even just helped me mature a little bit and face challenges.”
Cancer has also taught her to be kind to strangers.
“You don’t know what they’re going through,” she pointed out.
Sammie shares her story at fund-raisers and banquets, and on the radio. She’s also vice president of Nick’s Round Table, a teen-run offshoot of the Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation, which Cammarata and her family started after Nick died. The organization provides emotional and financial support for teenagers fighting cancer.
Members of Nick’s Round Table visit teenage cancer patients at the Melodies Center and bring them personalized “comfort bags” filled with gifts that match their interests.
Benjamin Mayo, who is also featured in Cammarata’s book, is a member of Nick’s Round Table.
The 15-year-old Halfmoon resident is a 10th-grader at Shenendehowa. He loves drawing and his sense of humor is quick to surface.
Benjamin was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when he was 12 years old.
“I was a weird little kid, so I didn’t really know what it meant,” he said in a phone interview, a smile evident in his voice.
In his young life, he’s been through brain surgery, proton beam therapy, chemotherapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
Benjamin’s cancer is now in remission, but he is still dealing with the side effects of treatment.
The battle has been tough, but his friends and family keep him going, he said.
Some good things have come out of having cancer too, he observed. “It’s definitely made me wiser in ways I can’t really explain.”
Having cancer also provided him with the opportunity to meet a lot of nice people, including his doctor, “Doctor Ed.”
A member of the Boy Scouts since first grade, Benjamin has always been an active volunteer with his troop, but after his diagnosis, he began to focus his efforts on the cancer community. He has been involved in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and has used his artwork to raise awareness about cancer.
He’d also like to have a part in eradicating the disease.
Until that cure is found, Benjamin has some words of wisdom for those traveling the road he’s been on: “It’s tough, I guess, but you’ll definitely look back on it and think that it’s helped you a little bit. Even though it’s done a lot to you in negative ways, it also provides positive stuff.”