MADISON, NJ - It is every parent’s worst fear. Your six year old child feels ill and wakes up with a mild fever one day and within a week begins the fight of their life battling cancer.
Last December Nick and Andrea Farina of Madison did what most would do when their only son Jack woke up with a mild fever and hives- called the pediatrician, scheduled a visit and went home with instructions on how to manage what was "probably a virus." Little did they know that a week later after a rash type break-out, which Farina's dad quickly identified over the internet as petechiae, and subsequently requesting a full CBC blood work-up the next day, Jack would be diagnosed with Leukemia.
"Like the majority of people, I really had no idea what Leukemia is, aside from seeing the sad St. Jude commercials on TV. I never knew a child in my social circles who had Leukemia. I did not know what Jack’s prognosis could be, the treatment, etc. It was all incredibly shocking and overwhelmingly frightening" said Nick Farina.
"The traumatic experience of absorbing that your child has cancer is enough in itself. Then you learn that there needs to be tests done of his bone marrow and cerebral spinal fluid to determine exactly what type of Leukemia it is and how far its spread” added Farina
That day, December 13, 2017, would change the lives of the Farina family forever. They also learned that same day that Jack would miss the rest of this school year, lose all of his hair, and would need to endure over three years of harsh chemo treatments.
"As the oncologist sat with us to calmly explain all of this, I just cried" shared Farina. "At one point she put her hand over mine and asked me to articulate exactly what was so overwhelming to me. I told her the fear of my son dying. She then said that he will live a long life, looked me in the eye and told me with tears streaming down her face, that she would treat him as if he were her own. Those words in that moment were significant. I believed her."
Jack then had a bone marrow aspiration to determine exactly what type of leukemia he had. There are different types of leukemia, with varying survival rates ranging from 50% or less to over 90%. The results came back that Jack had B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia otherwise known as "ALL".
"If Jack were to have leukemia, then this is the preferred choice. ALL is the most common form of childhood cancer," said Farina. "We also learned that thankfully, the leukemia did not spread to Jack's central nervous system."
Pediatric ALL treatment is one of the greatest success stories of modern medicine. 50 years ago, this was a grim diagnosis with a very low survival rate. Today, the average survival rate is nearing 90% with subsets as high as over 95%. While ALL is highly treatable, it is the leading cause of cancer-related death among children in the United States.
Jack would go on to have six phases of treatment at The Valerie Center, part of The Goryeb Children's Hospital located in Morristown, NJ. He is currently in phase five and despite the toxic regimen of chemotherapy, he is doing well. His Leukemia is in remission but if treatment were to be stopped today, it would return quickly, hence the reason why his projected end of treatment date is March, 2021.
The expectation is that Jack will be able to return to Torey J school in September. The family goal is for Jack to be able to attend school for 50% of the school year.
MADISON AND THE VALERIE CENTER RALLY FOR JACK
This past year, the Valerie Center donated a robot for Jack's classroom, which Jack operates via an ipad ad (Also donated by the Valerie Center). So while Jack was out of school from December on, he was still able to participate when he felt up to it.
Torey J also facilitated a 504 plan so that Jack could receive home instruction which he received for approx six hours per week since January.
"As a result, of these joint efforts Jack managed to receive an excellent, advanced education despite the fact that he missed more than half of the school year," said Farina. "The principal and staff at Torey J have been a godsend. They couldn't be more loving and supportive. We are very blessed to have them in our life."
"The entire community of Madison has rallied around us. Our neighbors and friends immediately set up a Meal Train to supply lunches and dinners for us while we were in the hospital during our first month of Jack’s treatment - our friends here locally are wonderful and can't do enough for us," added Farina. As well, our parish, St Vincent Martyr, has been an incredible source of support.
A CaringBridge website was also setup to provide friends and family with updates about Jack.
FARINA FAMILY AND FRIENDS GIVING BACK
Jack Farina loves Madison baseball.
"From the early days of his diagnosis we were committed to finding a way to get him to participate in this past little league baseball season. Jack was placed on a team with lots of his good friends, and I signed up to serve as an assistant coach," said Farina. "Unfortunately the baseball season coincided with Jack starting the most intense part of his treatment in April but amazingly we were able to get Jack to participate in a few games.
During the baseball season, the Farina Family and fellow coaches Dave Smith and Matt Gallo came together to discuss what they could do as a team to show support for pediatric cancer.
"Andrea and I asked the Valerie Center what we could do to tangibly and directly benefit them. They conveyed to us that they were running low on gift cards which they award to kids when they complete a chemo treatment. Also gift cards are used to help financially strapped parents of their patients with groceries, gas, etc." said Farina.
The Madison Little League team took this information and decided to do a gift card fundraiser. A YouCaring website was started to collect donations and the team went out to get the word out.
The Farina's also personally committed to match the first $1,000 raised.
After six weeks, the team managed to raise a total of $6,160, which was then converted to smaller denomination gift cards.
One of the team moms designed "Leukemia Awareness t-shirts' which all of the kids wore when they joined Jack and the coaches/parents this past Thursday June 14 to formally present the gift cards to The Valerie Center
A FAMILY CALLS LOCAL COMMUNITY TO ACTION
The Farina family consider themselves very lucky that there is a specialized pediatric oncology clinic just a short 10 minute drive from their front door.
As well, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a facility like The Valerie Center closeby. Many families need to commute hours to the closest center, and others must even relocate in order to be closer to where their child could receive adequate treatment.
"While there are many, vitally important hot button topics impacting our community,, I can see no more important cause than to support kids suffering from cancer right here in our backyard. said Farina. "For many, it’s the out of sight / out of mind conundrum, hence the reason why awareness is of paramount importance. There is no difference between my family and anyone else in this town - we just happened to draw the backwards lottery ticket. It could happen to anyone. But since it happened to us, I can't meekly sit to the side while other, more politically convenient topics are being promoted. There are kids in this very community and Morris County in general who either presently have cancer like Jack or are recent survivors of cancer, thanks in large part to the work of the Valerie Center here locally," added Farina. “We as a relatively affluent community could be doing more to support this critically important place. They are saving our son’s life”
Contact Ann Stocknoff at the Valerie Center to make a donation in honor of Jack Farina: firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-971-6720