When your hero is only six

Name: Bethany
Age at diagnosis: 6 years
Diagnosis: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
How Family Reach helped: Grant to pay monthly COBRA premium


In May 2008, Lisa and Mario Ciccarelli were deeply concerned about the health of their 6-year-old daughter, Bethany. After a series of minor illnesses and ongoing back pain afflicted Bethany, her doctor ordered bone marrow testing. The results showed that Bethany had developed acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a common form of pediatric cancer. “I knew in my heart that something was wrong,” said Lisa. “It was my worst fear, and my worst fear came true.”

The 2 1/2 years of treatment that followed were difficult and intense for Bethany and her family. Bethany endured numerous cycles of chemotherapy, as well as severe nausea and other side effects, including neutropenia. The depletion of her white blood cells made Bethany vulnerable to infection and caused her to be admitted to the hospital nearly 20 times.

Lisa and Mario managed to hold their family of 6 together despite the emotional, logistical, and financial challenges of battling cancer. Initially, the Ciccarellis had good medical insurance through Mario’s job. However, the significant co-pays and gas costs for the 45-minute trips to the hospital began to add up. Then, when Mario was laid off, they were faced with the additional challenge of making payments for health insurance through COBRA. Family Reach collaborated with the pediatric social workers at Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Medical Center to help relieve some of the financial strain. Family Reach provided a grant to cover the expensive monthly premium for COBRA, which provided essential coverage for Bethany’s ongoing medical care and monitoring. Lisa spoke of how difficult it can be to get assistance and expressed her deep gratitude, saying, “You know, with foundations like yours—you need help, and there it is!”

Bethany’s cancer is now in remission, and she has been off chemotherapy for 6 months. She is doing well in school and loves to sing, dance, swim, and play with her friends. Lisa credits Bethany with helping her through the treatment journey with her faith and positive attitude. “She’s a great kid!” she said. “She’s my hero!” Lisa also spoke of the empathy that Bethany showed toward other children being treated for cancer at the hospital. She remembers her daughter saying, “I feel sorry for the little kids going through this.” When her mom replied, “But you’re little,” Bethany responded, “They’re littler.” The compassion borne out of her personal experience with cancer has awakened a desire within Bethany to become an oncology nurse when she grows up. As she said to her mom, “I want to help kids with cancer.”

Last update: July 31, 2010