The Balistreri Family Makes a Difference For 95 years, the Balistreri family has been serving…
A Strong Bond
Prior to Laura getting sick we did basically everything together – we loved to play hide and seek, make forts, wrestle, and dance to rock n’ roll with dad, go fishing, and hiking. Even in school we were in different grades, but we always played together at recess and were inseparable.
We had just started at a new school and Laura started having a harder time seeing the board and was having a harder time running around the playground; I remember specifically sitting with her every recess because it was becoming harder and harder for her to see where she was walking. My parents took her in to the doctor thinking she would just need glasses when they got the news that Laura had cancer and will likely lose her sight completely.
She went through two years of chemotherapy and achieved remission. However, in 2003 she was diagnosed with a different brain tumor, astrocytoma, for which she did a round of radiation and again achieved remission. Unfortunately, the tumor came back again and this time it was in her spinal cord. My parents had to make the one decision no parent should ever have to make…and that the best thing for her was to bring her home and keep her comfortable. She passed away the morning of July 3rd, 2005.
She underwent treatment at Children’s Wisconsin and the MACC Fund day hospital/clinic. The part I always found odd was how she seemed to enjoy going to treatment. Everyone there loved Laura and her quirkiness, and they served as a great support for her and my family. When my sister got sick, I was only 8 years old, my sister was my best friend, and I hated everything that had to do with her going to the hospital. Now that I look back, I see all the times the staff went out of their way to make me feel special and all the resources they provided for siblings to make them feel special.
I honestly have no idea when I first thought of becoming a nurse; I used to dread going to Children’s when Laura had a clinic appointment at the MACC Fund Center or when she had inpatient stays. I hated everything there was to do with Laura getting treatment and I still don’t completely understand why. Even years after Laura passed away, becoming a nurse was never something I thought I would do. I started working as a CNA in a nursing home, and something just clicked…and I decided I was going to go into nursing.
No one ever thought I’d end up becoming a nurse and working in the ICU at Children’s Wisconsin that partners with the HOT unit and cares for the most critically ill oncology patients. Over the years I have stood alongside these families as their child passed away, as the healthcare team sits them down and gives them the worst possible news a parent could ever hear, as we ask them to make some of the most difficult decisions no parent should ever have to make, or had families watch as we perform CPR, push medications, give blood, and place their child on life support. It is difficult for anyone to know what to say or how to comfort a family going through their child having cancer much less when they are critically ill.
I do think experiencing what I did with my sister, watching her and my parents as she was going through treatment, getting sick, becoming blind and passing is honestly what ultimately lead me to where I am today. I don’t only care for the patients, but I also care for the families.
Continuing to Hope
Working as a nurse with these families it shows me how much the support the MACC Fund provides not only to the patients but to their families. Having a child with cancer and being the sibling of someone with cancer is one thing that no family should ever have to go through. And I can never thank you guys enough for everything you do.
My hope for research is for improved treatment options, better ways to manage side effects of treatment or of the disease itself, and that ultimately, we can find a cure for every child diagnosed with cancer/blood disorder and that no child or family must fight for their life against childhood cancer/blood disorders.
Want to share your story as a supersib, parent, or patient? Please email Danielle Torgerson at email@example.com to share your story and raise awareness for the importance of childhood cancer and related blood disorders research.