By Marissa Paganelli
Cancer survivor and Northport native Alexis Attardi is returning to hospitals — but this time, it isn’t for treatment. Instead, the 19-year-old is helping patients who are fighting the battle against cancer she once fought.
Attardi, a sophomore at Adelphi University, works with Love Your Melon, a nonprofit started by college students in 2012 that raises money for cancer research by selling hats. For each hat sold, one is also given to a child cancer patient.
Love Your Melon has made a name for itself through college representatives like Attardi, who take their time to spread the word and deliver hats to local children’s hospitals.
“Giving a hat to a child with cancer is meant to bring continuous smiles and support to someone fighting,” Attardi said. “Losing hair is a part of the fight where the request of a hat from a loved one is supposed to make the process easier and something these children can look forward to wearing.”
Attardi was 11 when she was diagnosed with stage four of anaplastic non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a strain of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system from cells called lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell that helps the body fight infections.
The only response Attardi said she could muster when the doctor told her was “Am I going to die?”
She said she was told that she was going to be in for the fight of her life, and was given a 70 percent chance of survival.
Attardi was just starting middle school at the time, and was scared no one would want to be her friend because of the way she looked. She had lost 30 pounds and most of her hair as a result of her 15 chemotherapy treatments.
Attardi received her treatments at Stony Brook University Children’s Hospital where staff members and nurses soon became her closest friends. Whether it was coming into her room to spend time with her or just to check in and see how she was doing, she said the staff made the hospital feel like home.
“It was the little signs of thought and care that made being in a hospital and not in school with my friends a bit easier,” Attardi said. She missed her last three months of sixth grade due to treatment.
After her yearlong battle, Attardi was told she was cancer free.
“It was a miracle to hear those words, and a feeling I can’t put words to,” she said.
Attardi said she understood that her cancer could come back at any moment, and it’s because of this she works so hard to give back to children and people who face the same obstacle she once did.
“As a cancer survivor and captain of Adelphi’s Love Your Melon campus crew, giving back is what I’m all about,” she said.
Attardi said she plans on returning to Stony Brook University Hospital.
“I just want to contribute the same help I was given and I know even the littlest things, like receiving a beanie, means so much more than it would be thought.”
Attardi’s commitment to her cause has impressed her peers.
“I have no doubt Alexis can make a huge impact in children’s lives,” said Erica Massmann, a member of Adelphi’s Love Your Melon crew who has worked alongside Attardi in recruiting new members on campus. “Being a cancer survivor herself, Alexis knows what these children are going through. She can take her experiences with her fight with cancer and bring that into the community to help make a difference.”
Attardi said she has come out of this experience a stronger person.
“I’ve realized life isn’t about materialistic things,” she said. “Helping others is a task that has continued to shape me as a person.”