Cancertacular, a 501( c)3 volunteer run non-profit organization, strives to increase awareness of childhood cancer. Our mission is to support those children and their families in NEPA with compassion and friendship, encouraging kids to help kids.
We believe that no child, family member, or adult survivor of childhood cancer should ever feel alone. Once we know you are out there, we pledge to do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen! We send regular mailings to doctors, schools, and hospital in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and beyond. We also are active int he community, so don’t be shy. Ask us questions and introduce yourself if you see us out and about!!
Cancer can be emotionally and financially devastating. Fundraisers and donations are what make Cancertacular™ possible. While our monies remain in NEPA, our fundraising reaches far beyond the borders of our core counties - Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, and Wyoming. We will entertain almost any fundraising endeavor including: bus trips to Hershey, Philadelphia, and New York City. We have also lobbied in Harrisburg and Washington, DC for childhood cancer awareness and increased funding. In addition, we have Cancertacular items for sale on the web. Why? We know first-hand that, while battling cancer, you don’t have time or energy to worry about money. That is why we have limited grants for everyday expenses. If you need a little help, drop a private line in one of our e-mail boxes! We’ll do our best to meet your needs and process your request as quickly as possible.
Tina's Story: How Cancertacular Came to Be
Unbelievably happy. Full of love. Endless learning.
All of the preceeding phrases accurately describe my childhood. A childhood that whiled away winters drinking hot cocoa, summers in backyard pools, and autumns at pumpkin patches. The very same childhood that was stopped dead in its tracks in May of 1988.
Spending my glory days as a 6th grader in Valley View Elementary School, the highest grade housed in that building at the time, was pure bliss. I happily ignored my little sister as she frolicked with her kindergarten classmates. After all, I was the cat's meow with my newly lightened Sun-In shade of fried blonde. Of course, I naturally jumped twice as much as everyone when the American Heart Association's Jump-Rope-A-Thon came to our school. Yes, I was a Type A even as an eleven year old. And, naturally, my left leg hurt a little because I jumped so much. That pesky left leg did hurt, so much in fact, that I found myself on the x-ray table of Mid Valley Hospital in Peckville, PA.
Remember, it is the end of my perfect year of 6th grade, just in time for summer to start.....when I heard the doctor say, "It's a stress fracture. That's unusual for someone her age. She must have overdone it." A what? "We'll have to cast her." The horror. Or not. Mom took me to buy cute skirts to make it easier to get dressed, I had friends helping me around school, and I got lots of attention - my favorite! Since it was only a stress fracture, the cast was short lived. Just two short weeks later I was walking on two feet again, instead of one foot and two attention grabbing sticks, or crutches! My days quickly returned to status quo. I was dropped off at school, and walked to Mamie's (my maternal grandmother) house afterward. She had the pool, and that's where I wanted to be! I still limped a little, but I still managed to dance the night away at the 6th grade end of year dance.
So, as I limped the month of June away, my mom offered me a deal. An ultimatum, really. If I didn't stop limping in one week, we had to return to the doctor's. Well, I couldn't stop favoring that darn left leg. This time, I skipped the x-ray and got a one-way ticket to Nuclear Medicine for a bone scan. I had absolutely no idea what a bone scan was supposed to be like, but I do know that the Nuclear Medicine had an unusually eerie and somber tone that fateful July day. And, the usually cheery faces of the technicians matched it. Something was very wrong. I asked questions the whole time, but got no answers. I went back to Mamie's and waited.
By now, even the Fourth of July had passed, and even a dip in the pool couldn't mask the pain. As I lay in my pink-clad bed on a hot summer night, I was rubbing the calf of my left leg where it hurt. I noticed that it felt different than the right leg. My dad dismissed my fears as he tucked me in, instead lovingly suggesting some of my favorite things to dream about. The man who was my hero learned all too soon that many nights of sleeplessness were likely approaching for both of us. At 5PM on bone scan day, July20, 1988, my parents were called back to the hospital. I had to stay at Mamie's with my sister. Upon return, they seemed okay. There was some whispering, but I was sure it was just about buying me a present to compensate for that awful bone scan.
Sure enough, it was more than a present. It was a vacation! My parents announced that in two days we were road trippin' to Hershey. And, my sister was not coming! I had dreams of an entire back seat just for me. As visions of chocolate bars danced in my head, one word pulled me back to reality - hospital! I'm sorry, what did you say? They did, indeed, say hospital. We were headed to Hershey Medical Center, more specifically, Dr. Robert B. Greer's Orthopedic Clinic. Almost immediately, Mamie started campaigning for cards to be sent to me. Perched on the front porch, she told anyone or thing that was able to lick a stamp to do just that, and address letters to me, at Hershey Medical Center! Hellloooo......I'm only going for one day. No nights. One little day. The night before, I packed an overnight bag, just in case. It contained no clothes or toiletries, just games to occupy me until this little adventure was over.
As we drove into Hershey, early on the morning of Friday, July 22, 1988, I squealed with delight as I caught a glimpse of the rides at Hershey Park from my spacious back-seat accommodations. Secretly thinking that I'd talk my parent into a quick stop on the way home, I quickly complied with their request, donned my sandals, and readied myself to enter the hospital. That hospital was bigger than any I'd ever seen. On the sidewalks, patients - both kids and adults - sat in wheelchairs as they enjoyed some warm July air. Luckily, Dr. Greer's office was not far from the entrance. I was thankful for that, because I couldn’t walk long distances without resting my leg. I feel like we waited for hours to see the doctor.
We took the results of the bone scan with us. Before I saw Dr. Greer, a younger doctor came in to examine me. I read his name tag - Resident. Did he live in the hospital? He didn't. Although, he said it felt like he did. He was, in fact a doctor in training. Armed with a medical degree, he now had to practice with a more experienced doctor and learn from patients like me. Cool. I knew I could teach him a thing or two!
He asked me bunches of questions, and then my parents went out to speak with Dr. Greer. He told them the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God. Guess what? They wanted to sugarcoat everything and tell me maybe half of the truth. Dr. Greer put the breaks on that. As long as a child is able to understand, usually older than 5 or 6, he believes that they deserve to know the truth. Finally, the truth. The Three Musketeers - Dr. Greer, my mom and dad - came into rescue me from the Resident's poor joke delivery.
Dr. Greer explained that I had a "nasty rascal" growing in my leg, and he knew how to help me get better. Great! He went on to explain that the "nasty rascal" was actually a lump, or tumor, in my leg. Fabulous! I was right! There is something in there, and I have a reason to limp! Great news. I called Mamie, Grandma, and Grandpa immediately. They didn't seem so excited. We went to the ginormous cafeteria for lunch and returned to the orthopedic clinic.
The doctors went on to explain that I would need more tests before we made a plan to make me as good as new. We had 2 choices: 1. Complete several tests today, go home for the weekend and return on Monday for more tests. We have a winner! A no-brainer. 2. Complete several tests today, stay IN the hospital, a few more simple tests over the weekend, and be ready to go again bright and early Monday morning. Seriously? I don't think so. The Three Musketeers thought differently, so did the not-so-funny Resident. We stayed. Lucky I packed those games....
As the ensuing days brought a total of 14 months of chemotherapy (including Methotrexate, Vinchristine, Bleomycin, Cytoxan, Dactinomycin, Adriamycin, Cisplatinin) and 5 surgeries, I whiled away the precious hours at home surrounded by love - and Nintendo! Too sick to attend 7th grade, a tutor was delivered to my door a few times a week. I excelled in academics, seemingly the only thing I had any control over.
Armed with a new Benetton book bag, a new outfit, and a strawberry blonde shoulder length wig, I attended Valley View High School on the first day of 8th grade! I missed the 2nd and 3rd days, as I spent them at Hershey Medical Center celebrating my final chemotherapy treatment! I returned to school on day 4, and never looked back. If I had, I would have seen my Mom and Gramma wiping their eyes as I entered the hallowed halls of learning, cancer free!!
Save a few nasty colds due to a compromised immune system, I sailed through high school. Proudly, I spoke at commencement in 1994, graduating with honors after serving as yearbook editor and attaining the title, through Future Business Leaders of America, of PA State Champion in Impromptu Speaking. My last truly carefree summer played host to a trip to California, before returning to academia at The University of Scranton. At Scranton, I was somewhat of a "legacy". I continued a long line of "Royal" students, which my paternal grandfather began with his graduation in 1935! I flourished on campus, serving as an orientation aide and resident assistant, before being bestowed with the Jesuit Community Award for School and Community Service at graduation in 1998.
May 31, 1998 was a melancholy graduation day - a day filled with promise, hopes, memories and tears. June 1, 1998 was my first day at my first "real" job at Scranton Counseling Center. It was undoubtedly hard, but what an opportunity for experience! Four years in, I started to feel sluggish, short of breath, dizzy, and gained 8-10 pounds per week. Difficulty grew to find clothes in my closet that fit, and my ability to walk distances was quickly shortened to 10 feet or less. After 6 months and several doctors, I was diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy. As pediatric chemotherapies are sparse, in 1988 I was treated with adult chemo at age 11. The very same chemo that saved my life had damaged my heart. My heart was functioning at about 30% off its capacity. After peeing out 42 pounds in 3 days (yes, I admit that I have fallen asleep on the toilet), heart transplant evaluations at Temple and Penn, and several weeks off of work, my heart was deemed stable. Miraculously, my heart stabilized further and regained some function. My heart will always be damaged, but it works hard enough to keep me quite active and quite happy! My second miracle happened shortly after the milennium in 2001.
Due to strenuous job requirements coupled with a 24 hour on-call component, I traded the Scranton Counseling Center for a 20 month stint as an Intake Coordinator at Allied Services. Another amazing experience with wonderful new friends ended in tears as I left in search of greener pastures with the Federal Government. September 2003 marked the beginning of my career at Social Security. As a Title 2 Claims Representative, I processed disability and retirement claims. This was, hands down, the most difficult task of my work life. In 3 years of training, I'm wagering that I studied enough to earn 2 more bachelor's degrees! I hit my stride as my 4th year commenced, and really began to feel as though I was making a difference.
On Sunday, February 17, 2007 I stumbled out of the shower around 10:30 AM. Feeling a little "off", I tried to comb my hair, but failed to remember what to do with a comb. My underpants lay on the counter, but I didn't recall what to do with them. Seconds (maybe minutes) later I stumbled out of my bedroom, and uttered my last word "help". I woke up 3 hours later in the ER at Mid-Valley Hospital in Peckville, PA, unable to speak, read, write, add, smile, or move my right side. Scared and frustrated, armed with only receptive communication, I was transferred by ambulance to Intensive Care at Community Medical Center in Scranton, PA.
3 days and one more ambulance ride later, I found myself in the Cardiac Special Care Unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. After titration of coumadin (a blood thinner), physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy, I was discharged on February 27, 2007. Upon return home, reality set in with a short bout of depression, anxiety, and "why me's"? Throughout that, I strived for recovery to the best of my abilities, and returned to work at the Social Security Administration only 2 months post-stroke, albeit part-time. Throughout summer 2007, I felt somewhat sub-par; however, what was I supposed to "feel" like just 5 months after a massive stroke? On August 30, 2007, I left work and began the climb to my car, parked on floor 3. After completing 3 of 6 flights of stairs, I began to pray. Realizing that passing out was imminent, aloud I repeated "please God, let me make it to my car." My prayer was not specific enough. I did in fact make it to my car, but never made it inside, instead passing out next to my car. After regaining consciousness, I searched for my cell phone - of course to postone my dental appointment! My second call was to my dad. After his strong urging, my third call was to 911.
An ambulance ride delivered me to Mercy Hospital - where it all began (again)! Within 48 hours, on August 30, 2007, I again found myself at Penn, this time the proud owner of an internal defibrillator. I named him Charlie, like Charlie's Angels - he watches over me. His croney, Bosley, is a care-link monitor that sleeps next to my bed, recording data each night from 1-4 AM, then transferring the information to PENN weekly.
The last paragraphs have chronicled what some will, no doubt, call tragedies. I believe they are miracles. In fact, I believe that I am living proof that miracles actually do exist. God left me on this earth for a reason, and since September 2007, I have been hunting for that reason feverishly. As of November 30, 2007, I am officially retired from the Federal Government - initially a large blow, both economically and psychologically. Since then, I have realized it to be a gift, the ability to reinvent my life. I would not trade any experience that paved the way for retirement at age 31, and have no regrets, for they afforded me the opportunity to become the person I am today.
One year after Charlie was "born", my quest was completed. Hillary Clinton tells us that, "it takes a village to raise a child." I believe that it also takes a village to survive Cancer. NEPA is "my" village. Further, childhood cancer patients are not typpically treated in NEPA. Instead, they travel to New York, Hershey, Philadelphia, Danville, and Delaware, in pursuit of the best care possible. While there, they form a new "family" to aid in saving their young lives. At home, few understand what they are going through. That is where my non-profit, Cancertacular™, Inc, comes into play. Cancertacular™, Inc. became official on August 18, 2008. We are NEPA's neighborhood for childhood cancer. Our mission? No child should feel alone during treatment, and neither should his or her family. Optimally, no parent should have to choose between working to pay bills and accompanying their child for life saving medical treatment. Thus, all monies raised by Cancertacular™, Inc. remain in NEPA to support Golden Families, as gold is representative of childhood cancer.
What's next for me?? Medically, I honestly have no idea, as there are few childhood survivors who have lived longer than me. With a few of my contemporaries, we are traversing unknown paths. Paths that can be studied, affording prior mistakes to evolve into progress and pages in Journals of Medicine.
The moral of my story?? I am STILL learning, while surrounded by love and happiness. I have learned that attitude can make or break you. You need to be your own advocate. Please listen to that tiny voice when you have a concern! Above all, I know that I can handle whatever comes my way. For you see, I am a survivor!
More About Us
Corporate colors: Gold is the color of childhood cancer. Appropriate, because all of our children deserve gold metals for their bravery wit, and ability to love! Lavender is our second color, as it represents all cancers.
You will hear and see the following terms on this website and in everyday conversation: survivor, angel, and warrior. A survivor has already battled one of the 8 major types of childhood cancer, is off treatment, and declared cancer free. A warrior is currently undergoing some type of cancer treatment, usually chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. An angel has fought an unequivocally valiant battle, but did not have an earthly healing. An angel watches over their family, and all the other warriors and survivors from heaven.