Twenty-four-year-old Nick Bowen of Queensbury has been living with inoperable brain tumors for more than a decade, but he never lets cancer cheat him from getting the most out of every day.
South Glens Falls teen Nick Heald has fought back twice from tongue cancer but holds down a 23-hour-a-week job while attending college full time.
The two area youths are part of a group featured in “What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer,” written by Clifton Park mother Janine Cammarata.
The author wrote the book to give hope to others facing similar challenges.
“Anyone who has family and kids dealing with pediatric cancer or anyone who lives with a life-threatening illness or has adversity in their life, these are life lessons that you can use to deal with any life-changing event,” Cammarata said.
Cammarata’s own son, Nick, battled leukemia for a few months in 2008 before succumbing to the disease a few weeks after his 13th birthday.
In response to her grief, Cammarata and her husband formed the nonprofit organization Nick’s Fight to Be Healed Foundation and Nick’s Round Table, a teen advisory group, to keep his spirit alive.
Cammarata said despite her son’s painful complications from his disease, he managed to teach the rest of those around him how to live life fully.
After Nick’s death, she began talking to other young people who were in different stages of cancer and found they had attitudes similar to her son.
“It was their strength, their ability to look at the situation of, ‘This is how it is, and I’m going to fight it.’ None of them ever gave up, despite horrible physical and emotional side effects,” Cammarata said. “They fought through because of their family, faith and they still wanted to give back to their cancer community.”
Two years ago, Cammarata decided to compile a book from interviews with nine of these young people, ages 13 to 24, who lived between Clifton Park and the Vermont border. Included is a posthumous profile of her son.
Each chapter features numerous photos and quotes, along with a narrative of the individual’s personal journey from cancer diagnosis to the present, how he is trying to return the support and his hope for the future.
Cammarata used the title “faith” in the chapter on Bowen. The Queensbury man, who is more than four years through a six-year pharmacy program, has been living for half his life with inoperable tumors in the ventricles of his brain and behind his right eye.
Bowen said he agreed to be featured in the book because it was a way of giving back to people who touched his life.
“I’ve been blessed with so many things in my life and hopefully my story can connect with what kids in the hospital are going through,” Bowen said.
He said his cancer is just part of his life, but he tries to stay busy and never dwells on the illness.
“I don’t think it’s how long you live with the disease, it’s kind of the sign of how well you live with it. Some people get a disease and let it consume them, and they become bitter. But when I feel sorry for myself, I think there’s people who are going through something worse than me and complaining less,” he said. “You learn it early on and move on — or it takes a while to learn — or you don’t learn that lesson at all.”
Heald, 19, is a mechanical drafting major at SUNY Adirondack. He recently received the Hannaford Service Star of the Year award for customer service at his job. He already has faced cancer twice in his young life, but he said he has learned to live “in the moment.”
“I don’t really think about what’s coming. I just kind of take it as it comes,” Heald said.
One of the youths profiled, who endured cancer for seven years, died before the book was released, but Cammarata believes readers can gain inspiration from every story.
Amy Gurdo, Heald’s mother, said she hopes the book helps raise awareness of childhood cancer so that more research dollars are devoted to it.
“Every day, it seems to be more and more children,” Gurdo said.
All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Nick’s Fight to Be Healed Foundation to support pediatric cancer patients and their families. Copies are being given to all young patients being treated at Albany Medical Center.
“It takes more than medicine to heal a child — it takes hope, love and laughter. Sometimes, it just takes the right words, that special hug, the funny joke; sometimes all three and more. One child at a time can be healed,” Cammarata wrote.