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Loss Inspires Growth of Pediatric Cancer Cause

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Loss Inspires Growth of Pediatric Cancer Cause

Loss Inspires Growth of Pediatric Cancer Cause

Growing up, Kayla Wheeler, never imagined she'd lose her childhood friend Nick Cammarata to cancer. But she also couldn't imagine the good that would come from his passing. Inspired by Nick and the work of a foundation set up in his memory, Kayla brought his memory with her to college at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and created a local chapter of Nick's Fight to Be Healed Foundation, aimed at supporting pediatric cancer patients. The group keeps Nick's spirit alive by holding fundraising events throughout the year that benefit patients at Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Nick's Fight to Be Healed Foundation was first founded in Albany in 2009 after Nick, a 13-year-old Albany Med patient, was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). After a long battle, Nick reached remission on Oct. 18, 2008 and hoped to receive a bone marrow transplant. About a week later, Nick ended up losing his brave fight with the disease. His legacy, however, continues to shine through the work of the foundation, especially with members of 'Nick's Round Table,' a volunteer group of teens who, like Kayla, want to make a difference in the lives of other teens battling cancer.

Loss Inspires Growth of Pediatric Cancer Cause Nick and Kayla grew up in Clifton Park and met through a karate program when they were very young. Although Nick was three years younger and in her brother's class, he and Kayla formed a special bond. "In class Nick was always happy and smiling and would often get in trouble because he never took it seriously," Kayla said. "It was kind of a joke we had because he was like the class clown."

Nick's fun attitude fit perfectly with the mission of the foundation that holds his name. Nick's Fight to Be Healed Foundation strives to "…improve pediatric cancer patients' lives by promoting well-being, reducing stress within the entire family, and providing resources to help children with cancer lead fun and fulfilling lives." The group carries out its mission by financially assisting families who have been affected by cancer, providing distractions such as DVDs and video games in the pediatric oncology clinic, giving "Nick's Comfort Bags" to teens with personalized gifts and family "Hope Bags" to new patients, and spending time with kids as they go through their diagnosis.

"Nick really enjoyed every minute he had and he taught me to appreciate more things in life," Kayla said. She saw the impact Nick's Fight to Be Healed was having in Albany and wanted to spread awareness and do something in Nick's memory while she was at school. Kayla started the RIT chapter in September 2012 and, as a member of the women's basketball team and volleyball team, was able to recruit a number of her teammates and friends. The group organized a fundraiser at the Henrietta Texas Roadhouse and a meet and greet with the RIT Women's Ice Hockey National Champions at the campus' Barnes & Noble. The two events raised a total of $2,300.

Maintaining the foundation's mission, a portion of the proceeds raised by the chapter is used to make personal care bags that are distributed to parents of Golisano Children's Hospital patients. The personal care bags include various toiletries parents need and may not have thought to bring or had time to grab, including a toothbrush, soap, deodorant and more.

"Kayla and the Nick's Fight to Be Healed Foundation have been instrumental in fundraising to provide personal care bags given to our patients' parents," said Stephanie Sheets, assistant director of community fundraising at Golisano Children's Hospital. "Their efforts have resulted in the creation of over 200 bags."

Nick's Fight to be Healed Foundation and especially Nick's Round Table have made a major difference in the lives of not only children with cancer and their families, but also the teens who have volunteered for the organization. "Nick's Round Table is unique in that most volunteers have either had cancer, have a sibling with cancer, or a friend who has been affected by cancer," said Janine De Tillio Cammarata, Nick's mom and co-founder of the foundation. "The volunteer group provides a positive environment for young adults to give back to others during a time when they often feel powerless and who else knows how to help kids with cancer than their peers?"

Kayla and the RIT chapter hope to organize an "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader" trivia event, as well as a benefit concert this spring. "The work the RIT chapter has done has shown how one person can create a powerful ripple of change in others' lives," Janine said. "Kayla leads the way and Nick's Fight to be Healed Foundation is proud of the chapter."

To find out more about the foundation and how you can be involved, visit www.fighttobehealed.org. You can also "like" the group on Facebook (http://goo.gl/dg0IQ4).

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