BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Gov. Livingston sophomore and cancer survivor Nicholas Tarabokia made his annual visit to the Mary Kay McMillin first grade class to kick-off the Wheel-a-Thon to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Nurse Maggie Berry-Kane started the annual event 11 years ago when Nicholas was a student at MKM and was undergoing treatment for leukemia. "Nicholas had cancer and he is here today to talk to you and answer questions you may have," said Berry-Kane.
Nicholas was diagnosed with leukemia when he was three years old. He told the students that he had cancer for four years and stayed in a hospital just like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for an entire year.
"I am here to help you to kick off the Wheel-a-Thon you are having to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital," said Nicholas. "When I was a student here, I had the same teachers that are here today -- they took great care of me when I was a student," he said. "When I was here, I had cancer like the kids at St. Jude's and I know how hard it is to be sick. I couldn't do the things that all of you like to do every single day. I couldn't go to school, I couln't have play dates, I couldn't go to birthday parties -- and would you believe it or not, I couldn't run, jump or play any kind of sports."
"Look at me today, I am a sophomore at Gov. Livingston High School, I am a member of the basketball team, and I am a member of the Varsity Track and Field team." He said that he can do all of these things thanks to a hospital just like St. Jude.
He told the students that he will be celebrating his 17th birthday soon, he will be getting his driver's license -- and he will be celebrating 10 years cancer free.
He explained to the students that St. Jude Children's Research Hospital treats children from the United States and from all over the world. -- "The special thing about St. Jude's is they pay for everything -- they pay for housing, food and travel. They realize how important it is for a family's child to get better."
"Because of schools like Mary Kay McMillin and students like you -- you are helping kids with cancer grow up to be healthy just like me. Do your best to make it a great day," said Nicholas.
The students will be learning about bike safety all month long while they raise money for St. Jude's. Next month, the lower playground will be transformed into a race track where the students will ride their bikes using the safety rules they learned.
Nicholas spent time with the students and answered all of the questions they had about having cancer -- and about being a student at Mary Kay McMillin.
Is cancer contagious? -No, it's not contagious.
How did you get cancer? It just happened when I was younger.
How old were you when you got it? I was 3 or 4 when I got it.
What is cancer? -- Cancer is a disease -- there are many kinds of it. -- I had leukemia. -- I had great doctors and support.
How long did you have it? -- I had it for 4 years.
How did you find out that you had it? -- Initially, I was sick and we went to the hospital and they saw that something was wrong. -- We went to the Valerie Fund Center in Morristown and they told us.
How bad did it hurt? It was pretty painful, but I had great support and doctors.
How many days were you in the hospital? A full year in the hospital.
How many days did you miss school? I didn't go to school for 120 days.
Why didn't you go to the school? -- Did people come to you? I was in the hospital, so I couldn't go to school. But teachers came to me. I still had school -- I had great support from the school.
What is your favorite color? Blue
Do you have any friends? I did have a lot of friends that helped to support me.
Did you have a blood test? Yes, I have blood work every year to make sure I'm healthy.
Who was your first teacher when you went to the school? Mrs. Poage
How old were you when the cancer stopped? I was healthy at 7. I was cured on June 7 -- on my birthday.