By Cady Kuzmich
Eight years after Nick Cammarata lost his battle with an aggressive form of cancer at age 13, the Clifton Park community continues to gather for an annual run and family carnival in his honor.
Nick’s Fight to Be Healed, the organization founded by Nick’s mother, Janine Cammarata, held its seventh annual Nick’s Run at the Clifton Commons on Sunday.
Nick Cammarata was just 12 years old when he was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia on July 4, 2008. He succumbed to the disease four months later. Janine Cammarata responded to the loss of her son by creating Nick’s Fight to Be Healed, a volunteer-run non-profit dedicated to helping young children battling cancer and their families, in 2009.
The event draws hundreds of runners each year, and this year’s edition included a carnival and a bouncy house. The races began with Nick’s Dash at 11 a.m. and Luke’s mile race at 11:15 a.m. A zumba warmup began at 11:45 a.m., then a two-mile walk started at noon. The 5K runners took off at 1 p.m.
Luke Romano battled cancer from fifth grade until just before his senior year at Shenendehowa High School, according to Cammarata. Romano was an active member of Nick’s Fight to be Healed and told his mom he didn’t want his own separate foundation after he died. “We’re all coming together. There’s no ego. We just want to help our kids,” said Cammarata. “It’s hard for families to accept help. It can be thought of as a weakness. I tell them ‘Accept help now and give back later,’” she said.
Every year, the foundation chooses a child to be “Nick’s Warrior” — this year it was Isabella Caruso, who was diagnosed with type B acute lymphoblastic leukemia in June 2015.
About 450 people pre-registered for the races, according to Cammarata. Sunday’s 5K race, which raises between $35,000 to $40,000 each year, is the foundation’s largest event of the year.
Nick Whaley, 36, of Clifton Park, won the 5K race with a time of 18 minutes and 13 seconds. Taylor Volkman, 22, also of Clifton Park, was the first female finisher, with a time of 21 minutes and 41 seconds.
“This isn’t just a fundraiser to support children with cancer. It’s a day for everyone affected by cancer to come together and make a difference in a child’s life. It’s a time to raise one another up so that families with children battling cancer can get through this tough time knowing they are not alone,” according to the foundation’s website.
“There’s a different energy this year,” said Cammarata as Affordable Soundz blasted feel-good music including The Gorillaz, The Beastie Boys, The Weeknd and Peter, Bjorn & John. “There’s a sense of hope,” she added.
Initially the foundation focused on small-scale projects like “comfort bags” for young cancer patients. The idea occurred to Cammarata when her son received a bag with pink socks and a pink journal from the American Cancer Society. “He laughed. He thought it was funny. He had a great sense of humor,” she recalled. That moment made Nick and Janine wonder if they could put together something more customized for each child.
The foundation has also put together family hope bags, which include gift cards, notes from families who have faced cancer, toothbrushes and toothpaste. “Sometimes the family won’t even go home. They’ll come in, get the diagnosis, have surgery and begin chemo right away. These comfort bags have everything you need for the parent and the child,” said Cammarata.
Since its founding, Nick’s Fight to Be Healed has increased its ability to financially assist families struggling with their child’s diagnosis. In a previous interview, Cammarata said: “If a family needs help with co-payments, their phone bill, car payments … We will take care of that based on the social worker’s request.”
Nick’s Fight to Be Healed also funds the child life specialist at the Melodies Center at the Bernard and Millie Duker Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center. The child life specialist is the person who helps families adjust to life after a child is diagnosed with cancer.
Children with painted faces walked around the Commons on Sunday afternoon with snow cones and teddy bears. The smell of freshly popped popcorn wafted through the warm fall air. A colorful bounce house was occupied with leaping kids through much of the day.
“It takes more than medicine to heal a child. There’s a lot of emotional trauma. This, I hope, helps,” said Cammarata.
Reach Gazette reporter Cady Kuzmich at 269-7239 or email@example.com.