Community rallies around teen with cancer diagnosis

Community rallies around teen with cancer diagnosis

ILION – It’s something no parent wants to hear: “Your child has cancer.” When an Ilion family received that very diagnosis a mere three months ago, they and the community both, pulled together in a great demonstration of courage, support and determination.

Marcus Sardina, 17, a Central Valley senior, is a big Led Zeplin fan. He plays guitar and collects coins, proving himself quite the haggler at coin shows in his younger years. He plays sports, likes monkeys and does not get angry easily. And, he received a serious and rare diagnosis July 10, of aggressive advanced-stage, T-cell-rich, Diffuse Large B cell, Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The cancer, which began in cells of Marcus’ immune system, had metastasized, or spread, to his spleen, chest and abdomen.

“Just like that, your life changes in a moment,” said Marcus’ mother, Nichole Sardina, from the Maria Ferrari Children’s Hospital in Westchester County.

It started with a lump in his neck less than one year ago. In November 2016, Sardina took her son to his regular pediatrician for a check up. She was told the lump was from “cat scratch fever.”

“Even at the time that didn’t make sense,” Sardina recalled. “I mean, cat scratch fever? What even is that? Marcus didn’t get scratched by a cat on his neck.”

She persisted, taking her son back to the doctor multiple times throughout the next few months. But every time, she

Marcus Sardina, right, with his mom, Nichole.

and Marcus were given another reason for the lump, including swollen glands from a recent cold.

Finally, in July, as Marcus prepared for football camp, the Sardinas received an accurate, albeit devastating, diagnosis: Cancer.

“It’s very frustrating that we went five times and lost eight months of potential treatment,” Sardina said. “But I try not to hold on to that. We need positive things now.”

Nearly an adult with a large build, Marcus initially began treatment in an adult program at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. The Sardinas quickly decided that facility was not for them.

“It’s such a different atmosphere between children’s hospitals and adult cancer treatment,” Sardina said. “The adult one was so dreary and depressing, while the children’s one is full of brightness and hope.”

So the Sardina family made the switch to Maria Ferrari Children’s Hospital, where Marcus undergoes aggressive treatments for a week at a time every two weeks. Between those treatment sessions, Marcus contends with infections and complications which often find him back in the hospital, Sardina said. The treatments will continue for five more months.

While such rigorous treatment and intense side effects would understandably get many people down, Marcus, his mother said, has amazing spirit.

“His psychiatrist just told me the other day, he (Marcus) has no fear,” Sardina said. “He’s completely confident he’s going to beat it and that’s it. He’s going to fight and he’s going to beat it.”

In addition to bringing out strength and determination in the Sardina family, the diagnosis has brought out community spirit as well.

“We’ve got the whole community behind us,” Sardina said. “There are local pizzerias that give us free pizza, people bring us dinner, students and teachers wear green to football games for Lymphoma awareness. It’s amazing. Cancer is a terrible thing, but there are positive things that come out of it too.”

On Nov. 19, friends and family will be holding a benefit for the Sardinas at the Mohawk American Legion at 1 p.m. There will be a spaghetti dinner, entertainment and a silent auction. All money raised will help defray treatment and travel costs for the Sardina family.

Donations can also be made at a GoFundMe page, set up by family members. The effort is currently a third of the way to the $10,000 goal set. The page can be found at

As for school, thanks to Marcus getting himself ahead on credits during his junior year, and understanding support from CVA personnel, who set Marcus up with online resources, Marcus hopes to graduate on time in June 2018.

With his sights on beating cancer swiftly, Marcus does not plan to simply walk away afterward, Sardina said. Once in remission, she and Marcus have plans to bring some of the hope and determination found at children’s hospitals to adult cancer programs.

“I’ve read studies that children’s hospitals have a 30 percent higher success rate than adult ones,” she said. “I think that has a lot to do with the overall atmosphere and attitude.”

At Maria Ferrari, children collect Beads for Courage. Throughout the treatment process, patients receive a string and beads of different colors and types to signify completing different treatment milestones.

“We want to bring those Beads of Courage to adults battling cancer at Strong Memorial,” Sardina said.

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