All I can say to preface this tale is that John Accardo's St. Baldrick's story gets to the root of why we fight for a cure...
My name is John Accardo and I am a St. Baldrick’s “Knight of the Bald Table.” In the not too distant past I, like many, had never heard of . But that was a lifetime ago.
When the events of 2004 took place I was oblivious. What I did know was my younger daughter Jennifer had just turned 14, and like all 14-year-olds she was ready to take on the world. Rock concerts, NASCAR, friends, and testing her limits were what her world was comprised of.
As spring turned to summer she started her first paying job at Splish Splash. By mid summer though something wasn’t right, headaches were interfering with her ability to work. Visits to various specialists started, in mid August the ophthalmologist told us to take her to Stony Brook. Tests ensued, all inconclusive. Once, while waiting in the pediatric ICU as Jen underwent a third spinal tap, I can remember peering through the doors into the adjoining pediatric oncology unit and thinking to myself “boy, I’m glad I’m not in there.”
Three weeks later Jen was admitted into room 124, pediatric Hematology-Oncology. My daughter had cancer.
It wasn’t long after this awful day that I learned of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation; from the parent of another teenage girl battling cancer. This was just the kind of organization I had been looking for, with an offbeat approach to their mission that fit my personality. I immediately registered and shaved my head for the first time in 2005 at Napper Tandy’s in Smithtown. Jennifer was unable to attend due to low blood counts from her chemo.
Jennifer’s treatments lasted from the fall of 2004 through January of 2006. She received a very aggressive course of chemotherapy treatment along with radiation of her brain and spine. Treatments completed and, in remission, Jen became active in St. Baldrick’s as well, raising money at school and at Stony Brook.
For the 2006 event at Nappers we both attended sporting green hair (the color of money). We even went to a second event that summer with Jen actually shaving my head for the first time, there was some blood spilled. Jennifer developed a passion for fundraising, she came to realize who the people were that were helping kids like her and went out of her way to support them.
Later we became members of the Northport committee, and were introduced to the wonderful community of Northport and the amazing support for the St. Baldrick’s events. We also came to know the three founding fathers of the foundation. Each year the events were loud, energetic, maybe a little rowdy but most importantly, they were successful. The underlying mission being very serious: to change the impact of cancer on children.
The St. Baldrick’s foundation publishes a statistic “1 in 5,” one in five children diagnosed with cancer will not survive. While this is true, it is for initial diagnosis. But cancer is a ruthless foe, and these odds get much worse if a child relapses. Many of those who do survive are left with disabilities as a result of their treatments.
In the spring of 2008 after two years of remission, we got the heartbreaking news that Jen’s cancer was back. Jennifer was undeterred. She was determined to graduate high school with her class, and did. She attended prom just six days after her mediport was placed and signed up for college.
Jen was more active than ever fundraising for St Baldrick’s. She was notorious for fundraising at the Stony Brook Cancer Center while undergoing her new treatments, dragging her IV pole, cash jar in hand, and returning to clinic with a jar full of dollars. She was also graced with being the honored child at the site of the original St Baldrick’s event, Jim Brady’s Tavern in NYC, on St. Patrick's Day 2009. Jen was in great spirits and appeared to be doing very well on her new treatment regimen.
But cancer is insidious and the 2009 event was the last she would attend. In March of 2010 she quietly turned 20, leaving behind the teenage years, having never really been a teenager. On May 25, 2010 Jen became an angel, but her battle and spirit wages on.
In her honor and memory the Jen’s Ducks team was created to continue Jennifer’s passion for fundraising. My wife Anita stepped up and shaved her head for Jen last year for the first time. This year we’re back, with more members and higher goals.
Pediatric cancer does not take a day off; as I write this, two more children have become angels in a period of just four days. I’m committed, green hair and all, St. Baldrick’s is certainly committed, and with your generous support we just might find the key to conquering this menace. Failure is not an option.