Author Janine De Tillio Cammarata asked her audience members to close their eyes and picture the person who means the most to them — whether it be the seemingly invincible parent, their sibling or their soul mate.
Then she asked them to imagine what it would be like if that person was gone forever.
Cammarata was thinking of her 13-year-old son, Nick, who she lost to acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2008.
Cammarata reflected on Nick’s life and how she can better the community in his honor during her presentation, “The Power of Giving and How It Transforms Us.” Held in the Library Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 8, the event was was co-sponsored by Colleges Against Cancer and the freshman class council in order to teach students how to band together, give back and make a difference in their communities.
“Nick was the sunlight in my family,” Cammarata said.
In summer of 2008, Nick became fatigued while he was swimming. Bloodwork later revealed the terminal diagnosis.
After going through chemotherapy, battling a bout of severe infections and recovering from an appendectomy, Nick finally went into remission on Oct. 18 of that year. However, he suffered a spontaneous brain hemorrhage and died eight days later.
“Why did this happen? What was the purpose?” asked Cammarata, as she went into detail about the numbness she felt during the first year after Nick’s passing. “You can’t stop living your life. You have to find a way to honor that person.”
In order to honor Nick’s memory, Cammarata founded a nonprofit organization called “Nick’s Fight To Be Healed.”
The foundation raises money for families of children with cancer and strives to improve and provide resources to help children with cancer lead fun and fulfilling lives.
Members of “Nick’s Round Table” are teens who want to make a difference in the lives of other teens battling cancer. They purchase iTunes gift cards, video games and other items to help distract young adults during treatment.
“We noticed a real need for distractions for teenagers,” Cammarata said. “They don’t want to do arts and crafts at the hospital.”
The logo of the organization, a dragon, a shield and a sword, was inspired by Nick’s love for all things medieval, a passion Cammarata shared with her son.
“(It) was all and more than I expected,” freshman marketing major Derek Carper said. “I was really touched and inspired by her story and her ability to stay strong.”
In November 2012, after two years of interviews, Cammarata published, “What Makes Them Amazing! Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer.” The book follows nine young adults battling cancer and illustrates their changes in perspective.
“You never get over something like this, but you get through it,” Cammarata said about losing her son. “You get through it by giving back, not only to channel time and energy, but (also) to make a difference in the lives of others.”
*This story was originally published in The Signal.