Everyone liked Nick Colleluori, a charismatic young man. His upbeat outlook on life never wavered, not even when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in September 2005 or over the next 14 months as he unsuccessfully battled this aggressive type of blood cancer. “I had always been proud of Nick,” said his mom, Cheryl, “but never more so than seeing how he dealt with the disease.”
Cheryl Colleluori with Dr. Stephen Schuster at a recent fundraiser for the the Nicholas E. Colleluori Lymphoma Research Fund at the Abramson Cancer Center.
Nick’s infectious smile and attitude helped his family and friends during this difficult time. “He didn’t like to see others unhappy on his account,” said Stephen Schuster, MD, Nick’s onocologist. But he also wanted to reach out to other patients. So, despite his deteriorating health, Nick started the HEADstrong Foundation to help others in his position. Days before he died, Nick made his family promise to continue with it. Nearly five years later, they have more than kept their promise.
“They’re relentless, working year after year to raise money for lymphoma research,” Schuster said. To date, HEADstrong Foundation has contributed $300,000 to the Nicholas E. Colleluori Lymphoma Research Fund, which supports research in blood cancers being conducted by Schuster at the Abramson Cancer Center. And it provides grants to patients at HUP with blood cancers to help with the financial burden of the disease. But the Foundation goes beyond its contributions.
“We provide Thanksgiving dinner for the patients, families, and staff on Rhoads 3, 6, and 7 [HUP’s oncology floors],” Cheryl said. “And we give out gift bags for the patients. Last year we fed 300 people.”
This year, the HEADstrong Foundation is treating patients and their families to a Phillies game. “If we can help them escape the reality of cancer for one day, we’ve done what Nick wanted us to do.”
HEADstrong recently opened ‘Nick’s House,’ a home to out-of-town patients undergoing cancer treatment in the Philadelphia area, and their families. The first guest – a patient from Boulder, Colorado who is receiving treatment at Penn -- arrived last week. The House, Cheryl said, “is a spectacular tribute to the life of Nicholas Colleluori."
The Foundation also promotes awareness of the disease. Lacrosse was a big part of Nick’s life – he was on the team at Hofstra University – and it is a big part of the HEADstrong Foundation’s fundraising efforts. Each year, the Nick Colleluori Classic draws college lacrosse teams from throughout the country. “As part of the entrance fee, the team has to hold a blood cancer awareness day on campus,” Cheryl said.
“Nick never showed depression or hopelessness, despite the hopeless situation,” Schuster said. Thanks to the Foundation, “he’s creating hope in others, often where there is none. That was his talent.”
To learn more about the HEADstrong Foundation, go to www.headstrongfoundation.org