Children who were too young to understand when Nick Cammarata died five years ago are now running races and fundraisers in his memory.
“Nick was a bit older than me, but I know his younger brother,” Dante Cilento said after finishing a 5-kilometer fundraiser for Nick with his soccer club. “I’ve known the Cammaratas for years. This is a time of year that’s very sad for them.”
Nick, 13, died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia just before Halloween in 2008. His family created a foundation, Nick’s Fight To Be Healed, to support other children with cancer.
Liam O’Brien was in elementary school when Nick died. But he still remembers the sorrow that washed across the school district. Nick had only been diagnosed five months earlier, and local groups had just organized a search for a bone marrow donor to help save his life. He couldn’t get the donation until he went into remission, which took months. Finally, the cancer was beaten and he went home — only to die of a brain hemorrhage a week later.
Everyone was stunned.
“Just like the community, we really felt the crushing blow,” O’Brien said.
Old enough to help now
They were too young to help then. But now, O’Brien, Cilento and other teenagers throughout Clifton Park have joined Nick’s Round Table to bring toys and fellowship to peers suffering from cancer.
Hundreds of them ran a 5K Sunday to raise money for the effort, which also provides for a child life specialist at Albany Med, who teaches the children about the changes they will undergo during treatment, explains medical treatments, and arranges all birthday and holiday events.
Entire soccer teams ran the race, along with church groups and school groups. Five professional runners from Kenya also came to race, wearing t-shirts that read, “Nick, you’re still #1.”
They won easily, to cheers and applause. But the spectators cheered just as hard for supporters who had never run a 5K before, and teenagers who were running together to raise money for the next child who needs help.
teens aiding teens
The teenagers in the Round Table — named because Nick loved Medieval stories, especially tales of King Arthur — use the money from events like the race to buy video games and art supplies.
They play games with children who are receiving chemotherapy, to keep their minds off their treatment. In the waiting room, volunteers teach arts and crafts.
They bring Nick’s Comfort Bags, filled with toys, to every child diagnosed with cancer at Albany Medical Center Hospital. Teenagers are first given a survey to find out what they like so that the Round Table can personalize their bag.
Their parents get bags too, and the adults in Nick’s foundation offer them the support of parents who know what they’re going through.
Janine Cammarata, Nick’s mother, tells them they’re not alone.
“I tell them never give up hope,” she said. “And to cherish every moment.”
She also gives them advice: take care of themselves.
“You can’t take time for yourself, but you have to take care of yourself so you can make good decisions,” she said.