BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - "Cancer Stinks" were two words written, as a message, by a 6-year-old child who was angry and frustrated about having cancer one day while he sat at his kitchen table.
Nicholas Tarabokia of Berkeley Heights, now 12 years old, was diagnosed in 2006 with leukemia and has been cancer-free since June 2009. He has turned those two words, "Cancer Stinks," into a mission to deliver hope and happiness to other children battling with cancer through the Cancer Stinks Children's Foundation.
From Nicholas' determination to help other children battling cancer, he started the Cancer Stinks Children's Foundation with his brother, Ryan, and they have been delivering 'Nights of Love' packages to children during their hospital stays for the past four years.
Nicholas came up with the 'Nights of Love' idea after returning home from a visit from the Valerie Center in Morristown. He told his mother that he wanted to deliver gifts to the cancer patients at the hospital.
Knowing too well how it feels to be in the hospital, he came up with a list of useful items to include in the package that would help the children during their hospital stays. The items on the list were a night light, a stuffed friend and a picture frame.
He chose the name 'Nights of Love' because nights are especially hard during stays at the hospital. "It's hard to be away from home and your family," said Nicholas. Explaining that only family understands what you are going through.
The night light can stay on and you can walk around with it, said Nicholas. The night light is a hospital-approved, battery-operated tech light that does not get hot to touch and can be wiped clean in a sanitary environment.
The second item on the list is a picture frame. "When you are in the hospital, you really want a picture of who you love," said Nicholas. "The picture of my brother was right near me."
Every package comes with the official Cancer Stinks bear, Brownie. "He helps children to feel safe and secure when it's time to go to sleep," said Nicholas.
"I know how hard it is to be sick and to have to go to the hospital. I remember staying in the hospital and always missing home. I hope it [the 'Nights of Love' Package] makes your time in the hospital a little easier and make your hospital room feel a little more like home," states Nicholas in a note enclosed with each package. Adding, "Believe in yourself, don't give up and most of all, Cancer Stinks."
Nicholas and Ryan share their message for Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month and the 'Nights of Love' package for children battling cancer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buKBLmn7Znk
Nicholas and Ryan assemble the care packages out of their basement, which was remodeled by HGTV's Cousins Undercover. Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri came out to Berkeley Heights and transformed their dark unfinished basement into a new Cancer Stinks headquarters.
"Anthony and John know it's important to mix work and play, so they built a space with modular furniture that is multifunctional. Cancer Stinks HQ by day and the ultimate boy cave by night, or at least until Nicholas' parents tell him it's time to go to bed," stated the HGTV website.
"The greatest thing about the whole experience was that John and Anthony wanted to do a delivery with the boys to a hospital," said Amy. They came out to deliver to Morristown Memorial Hospital, the same hospital where Nicholas spent many nights during treatments. "Because of that experience -- featuring what we do with Cancer Stinks, we have received emails and have had a moment." This public recognition by John and Anthony helped to sustain the foundation.
The Fighting Children's Cancer Foundation honored Nicholas, Ryan and the Tarabokia Family and Cousins from HGTV's Cousins Undercover at their gala last March for being local heroes who inspire hope, instill courage, and bring joy, comfort, and support to children and families fighting cancer.
Cancer Stinks keeps moving ahead at a slow and steady pace and Amy appreciates the organic growth they have maintained. The boys enjoy speaking at schools and have worked with summer camp programs for children with cancer -- delivering the contents for the kids to volunteer and assemble the 'Nights of Love' packages. The boys have delivered over 400 packages this past summer and 1,400 since the foundation's inception in 2010 to approximately 40 different states..
"It's nice for kids to be helping other kids," said Amy. "Cancer Stinks is their thing, it's dictated by them. They are doing it together, which is a perk," said Amy of her boys' close bond with each other.
"Cancer Stinks keeps us busy, but it is not overwhelming. It is supposed to be part of our life -- but not drive our life," said Amy.
Aside from helping behind the scenes with Cancer Stinks, Amy has been working with Mom2Mom, which provides a 24/7 helpline to moms coordinated by UMDNJ - University Behavioral HealthCare. The helpline features peer support, phone assessments, a network of referral services and support groups as stated on their website.
Amy is the mom that can "deal with cancer." She was instrumental in receiving a grant from the Valerie Fund to extend the Mom2Mom services for moms dealing with cancer. "I call to make sure the moms are okay. They may talk to me about life -- going to the food store for the first time and dealing with people seeing you for the first time since diagnosis," said Amy.
Visit the Cancer Stinks Children's Foundation website to learn more about the foundation and the 'Nights of Love' care packages and items available at the Cancer Stinks online store. "Like" the Cancer Stinks Children's Foundation Facebook page.
Cancer Stinks Children's Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization with the mission to bring joy, comfort and to help improve the quality of life of children and their families affected by cancer through advocacy, charity and support.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_QC2IUWh24 Video Credits: Leah Dooley -11 years-old.