ROXBURY, NJ – The 8th Annual Hope for Nicky Joe Foundation Bowling Fundraiser takes place tonight (Friday, June 21)and its creator, Debbie Russo, was running behind in her preparations.

Instead of getting right out of bed after waking this morning, the Ledgewood resident accidentally fell back asleep. Now time was running out; The event – taking place at Circle Bowl & Entertainment in Ledgewood  at 7 p.m. – was coming too quickly.

Nevertheless, Russo found the time to reflect on its origin: The untimely death of her son, Nicky, right before he was about to begin his senior year at Roxbury High School in 2011.

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Nicky, 17, died seven months after being diagnosed with leukemia, said his mother. Tonight’s event is a way for her, and her husband, Ed, to keep alive the memory of their son in a way that helps other families impacted by the disease.

Out of the Blue

Leukemia took the Russos by surprise. “My son was a healthy guy,” said Russo. “He was never really ever sick.”

The diagnosis came after Nicky visited a doctor in the middle of his junior year because he found himself struggling with fatigue. “We thought he had mono,” said his mother. “He would come home from school and fall asleep.”

A lack of energy had not been one of Nicky’s traits, she pointed out. “He was a great, fun loving guy,” she said. “He got along with everybody. He was on the golf team and he was in the marching band on the drum line.”

The doctors determined Nicky had “the deadliest of all the leukemias,” and aggressive treatment began immediately, Russo said. The medicines worked well, but to ensure the young man was clear of all cancer cells, the doctors gave him a bone marrow transplant.

“That was a success,” Russo said. “He did great; no more leukemia.”

Unfortunately, Nicky’s immune system had been dangerously weakened by the treatments. It was unable to deal with a virus that subsequently attacked his abdomen, said his mother. Nicky, a Roxbury resident since birth, died Aug. 18, 2011.

A Way to Remember and Give

The Russos began the bowling fundraiser the next year. All proceeds go to a non-profit foundation they created which turns over the funds to institutions doing research into leukemia and other childhood cancers.

“Nicky’s birthday was June 24, so we do it every year around the end of June,” Russo said.

Early years saw the event draw up to 80 people. The attendance has waned a bit – as many of Nicky’s friends moved away from Roxbury – but 50 to 60 people still show up, Russo said.

Attendance costs $40 for adults. It’s $25 for those 10 and younger. That gets you unlimited bowling, shoe rental, unlimited food, soft drinks and dessert. A cash bar is also available with $2 draft beers for the first hour. There will be door prizes and a 50/50 cash raffle.

Russo said the event is just one of many in Roxbury that make her proud to be a resident.

“It’s a great community,” she said. “There so many things going on in Roxbury all the time. The community is amazing ... There are always doing stuff to help other families. It’s just amazing.”

Russo hopes people have fun at the bowling fundraiser. She said her son was that kind of guy.

“I can’t say enough about the fun Nick had growing up here,” Russo said. “He lived life to its fullest during the time he was here. It was cut short. That sucks. But he is with us every minute of the day in our hearts and soul and I know I will see him again.”

To RSVP for the bowling fundraiser email edrusso@optonline.net or call/text Debbie Russo
at (201-841-6264).

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