Free ice pops put smiles on cancer patients’ faces

Free ice pops put smiles on cancer patients’ faces

Pediatric nurse specialist and Centereach resident Lisa Rendina helps Stony Brook Children’s Hospital take part in “Take a Pop, Share a Smile" campaign

Cancer survivors Aubri Krauss, Erin Ersoy and Delaney Unger enjoy ice pops from the Stony Brook Children's Hospital's new freezer containing a lifetime supply. Photo by Kyle Barr

For the young cancer patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, one of the worst side effects from chemotherapy, beyond the pain and the nausea, is mouth sores. The best way to soothe the pain, according to 12-year-old cancer survivor Delaney Unger, is with ice pops.

Husband and wife Frank and Lynn Antonawich, assistant director of nursing at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, and pediatric nurse specialist Lisa Rendina at the unveiling of Frankie’s Freezer. Photo by Kyle Barr

“When I had mouth sores, I had to tell my dad right away, because I knew they would get worse if I didn’t treat them right,” Delaney said. “Sometimes using other stuff would make [the pain] worse, so I would usually eat ice pops.”

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital announced Thursday it would be taking part in the nonprofit American Childhood Cancer Organization’s Take a Pop, Share a Smile campaign that donates a lifetime supply of freezer pops to hospitals for its cancer patients. The hospital will be receiving a total of 2,000 ice pops to start, and the ACCO will keep the freezer consistently stocked every year.

To hold the new bounty of ice pops is a new freezer named Frankie’s Freezer, which was dedicated in memory of Francis “Frankie” Antonawich, a 25-year-old who died in February from Hodgkin lymphoma before he could realize his dream of becoming a pediatric oncology nurse.

“I think he would have been thrilled about this, because he really loved kids,” Antonawich’s mother and assistant director of nursing at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Lynn Antonawich, said. “He not only felt that he could help a child, but also the parents of those children who would feel helpless.”

Frankie’s Freezer was named after 25-year-old Frankie Antonawich, who died from Hodgkin lymphoma in February. Photo from the Antonawichs

His father, Frank Antonawich, told an audience of Girl Scouts and families at a press conference May 3, trying to hold back tears, that the disease never stopped his son.

“Frank was a very active young man — it never stopped him going to work, going to the gym — he even continued to volunteer as a wrestling coach at his alma mater, St. John the Baptist Parish,” the West Islip resident said.

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital pediatric nurse specialist Lisa Rendina, who had worked with the family before and during Frankie Antonawich’s treatment, decided she wanted to get involved and contacted the ACCO, which donated the freezer too.

“As a mother, my heart broke for Lynn, and I wanted to do something to honor Frankie,” she said. “We just wanted to bring Frankie’s story to life.”

Rendina is the leader of Girl Scout Troop 105. Her troop, along with other members from Girl Scouts Service Unit 45 from Centereach, attended the unveiling. The Scouts wrote inspirational phrases all over the freezer like “No one fights alone” and “The one who falls and gets up is so much stronger than the one who never fell.”

The event also honored three cancer survivors from Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, including Delaney, 12-year-old Erin Ersoy and 10-year-old Aubri Krauss, all of whom are Girl Scouts from Centereach. The parents of the three girls agreed that ice pops were one of the simplest ways to deal with the mouth sores, while also aiding in hydration and nutrition.

The freezer donated by nonprofit American Childhood Cancer Organization’s “Take a Pop, Share a Smile” campaign was named “Frankie’s Freezer” in memory of Francis “Frankie” Antonawich. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I remember what happened with my daughter and mouth sores, it was terrible,” said Delaney’s father Berk Unger of his daughter who finished her final treatment last August. “Ice pops were the only thing that helped.”

Lynn Antonawich  said her son was in such severe pain following a stem cell transplant that he couldn’t eat.

“They were thinking of tube feeding him,” she said. “And he was a 24-year-old man. I couldn’t imagine what the pain must be like for a kid.”

Those who work in the children’s hospital said one of the most important things young patients need is to feel like their lived are as normal as possible.

“Anything helps,” Lynn Antonawich said. “From donations of gifts, such as iPads and game systems, they are able to take part in a more normal life like they would at home.”

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