Joey's Camp Story

Joey Fantozzi was like most boys his age - happy, active, and involved in many activities. But everything changed in September 2012, when Joey, then six years old, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)...

“It all started when the nurse from Joey’s school called me to let me know that Joey looked really pale and tired – they thought he might be anemic, so I went to school and picked him up,” says Nicole, Joey’s mother. A few days passed and Joey’s condition didn’t improve. His parents knew they had to seek medical treatment when Joey had to leave flag football practice early because he became short of breath. Nicole and Joe, Joey’s father, took their son straight to their local hospital near their hometown in the Pocono Mountains. Almost immediately, doctors knew something was wrong, but advised the family to seek the opinion of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “Everything moved very quickly…an ambulance picked up Joey that afternoon and by the late evening he was diagnosed with leukemia,” says Nicole.

That day marked the beginning of a long road ahead as Joey endured a month of chemotherapy and other interventional treatment. “He took it all in stride and never complained despite the pain he was in — he actually kept the entire family positive throughout the treatment process,” says Joe. Joey’s mother adds, “From day one, he never let cancer define him or bring him down — he’s such a strong kid.” It was during in-patient treatment at CHOP that Joey first learned about Ronald McDonald Camp. “When we heard about Camp, Joey was very, very nervous because he had never been away from home; however, I encouraged him to go from the very beginning because I knew that being around other children going through what he’s going through was just what he needed,” says Nicole.

In August 2013, Joey’s parents took him to Ronald McDonald Camp for a week of fun, friendship, and freedom from being different. “Joe and I felt great leaving Joey at Camp because his doctor, social worker, and child life specialist were all there and we knew he would be in great hands,” says Nicole. Ronald McDonald Camp provides the experience of a traditional overnight summer camp while taking into account the needs of children who are at different stages of cancer treatment, in remission, and the siblings’ needs as well — both medical and psychosocial. “You go through this devastating experience, then there you are with other children just like you, and brothers and sisters who have been in a similar situation — there’s nothing else like it and it’s food for the soul,” says Nicole.

Joey’s first summer at Camp turned out to be a life-changing experience and the anxieties of being away from home were quickly replaced with activities like Joey’s personal favorites:kayaking and fishing. “I remember picking him up on the last day of Camp and all the kids were eating in the mess hall. I yelled over to him so he would see me and he just ran into my arms – his spirit was renewed and he looked so happy. We spent the entire car ride home talking about all things ‘Camp’,” says Nicole.

Camp helps children with cancer and their siblings reclaim their childhood. For one week, a child can just be a child and experience new activities and acquire new skills in a supportive, nurturing environment. Camp means the world to not only the campers, but to their parents as well. “I just want to thank Camp supporters for their generosity towards children who have had or are battling cancer. To take a week away from everything they have been through and have an opportunity to forget their troubles and just be with friends, it’s just a tremendous experience. These kids build lifelong memories,” says Nicole.

Joey, now nine years old, loved Camp so much that he returned the following year in 2014 and will be attending again this summer. When asked what he would say to those who support Ronald McDonald Camp, he says, “You’re so awesome and thank you…so much!”

 

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