Giving Back: Cheers From Emily
Cheers From Emily was founded by 10 year old Emily Del Vecchio as a not-for-profit corporation whose goal is to provide gifts to children with cancer. Emily felt that lengthy hospital stays are boring. There weren’t very many children’s channels on TV, and lying in bed for days on end wasn’t much fun.
During one of her stays she mentioned that she would like a netbook. IPads didn’t play all the games on the web, and she liked the feel of a real keyboard when typing. After receiving one, she thought that other kids would probably like to have one as well. It was then she decided that she would like to help out other kids just like her, and give them netbooks or other gifts that would make their stay in the hospital less boring too.
Sadly, Emily passed away on May 11, 2012 at the age of 10. However, her spirit and kindness will continue to live on through this foundation. We will continue to strive to bring happiness and cheer to other children, just as she did during her all too brief lifetime.
Heart of Cheer was honored to speak with Emily’s parents, Joe and Lori Del Vecchio, about Cheers From Emily and this special young cheerleader who left behind a legacy of love and compassion.
Tell us about Emily. What are some of your favorite memories of her? Feel free to share some from family and friends as well.
Joe & Lori: “Emily was born in New Jersey on February 10, 2002. From the day she was born it seemed as if she always had a smile on her face, well, except when dealing with her two brothers of course. If nothing else, there was no doubt that Emily was a girl through and through. She loved buying clothes and shoes, her favorite color was pink, and when she was older, enjoyed texting with her friends.”
Joe: “Every memory of Emily is a priceless treasure. My favorite and one that I truly believe epitomizes who Emily was is this; it was just after she had her leg operated on and 7″ of her femur removed and replaced with a bone graft. She was sitting in bed and started crying uncontrollably… asking why did she have to get cancer, why did this happen to her, why can’t they fix it. I, as her father, had no answers and it made me feel completely helpless. I started to cry as well as I told her that I didn’t know why things happened and that if I could, I would take the cancer from her and take it myself instead. As soon as I said that, this little girl who had been bawling… stopped immediately. She put her arms around me, and said “No daddy… I wouldn’t want that… that would make me sad too… it will be okay daddy.” and she gave me as big a hug as she could. Here she was, battling cancer, crying because of what it meant to her, but as soon as she saw me upset, she forgot about her problems to help me. That’s who Emily was. She was like this with everyone and why I say that she was a true cheerleader; on and off the mat.”
Lori: “My favorite memories of Emily are her big beautiful brown eyes, her smile and kind heart. I always spent the night in the hospital with Emily and each night before bed we would watch a show or movie, or we would go on the IPAD and watch videos or sing songs. We would sing lots and lots of Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez; we made happy times during tough days. Some nights we were just silly, and I loved to hear her laugh and giggle. That was our time, and sometimes I could crawl in bed with her until she fell asleep. She had a dear friend who was also battling cancer, and her friend hated to take her pills, as a child with cancer, they take a lot of pills. Emily would visit, call or text her friend to encourage, push or flat out yell at her to take her pills because she loved her and knew how important it was.”
Ella Cline, friend and classmate of Emily, shared this special memory. “Emily. Rose. Del Vecchio. She was one of my closest friends and still cheers me on every day. Even when she had cancer she was still perky, sweet Emily. She was one of those girls that when she walked in, she lit up the whole room. Emily made everybody feel good about themselves and always had something funny to say. The word Osteosarcoma, well when I was around never really got to her. Emily just fought and fought and fought.”
Emily was a huge fan of the hit TV show, The Biggest Loser, and while in the hospital she was visited by Jillian Michaels. The two became quick friends and Jillian kindly shared this fond memory of Emily, “Emily was one of the most beautiful souls I ever had the pleasure of encountering. She was an inspiration to all who knew her. I strive daily to find the strength, courage, and kindness that Emily exuded effortlessly.”
How did Emily become involved in cheerleading?
Joe & Lori: “At the age of 4, she asked if she could do cheerleading. So we took her to a local gym where she tried out for the Central Jersey Allstars. After a few minutes of warm-ups, and then some instruction by a cheerleader, she passed her tryout and Emily’s cheerleading fascination began. Her coach, Miss Patty Ann, was tough on the girls, but taught Emily some valuable lessons about what it meant to be a cheerleader, and truly inspired her to continue on with the sport of Cheerleading.”
Patty Ann Romero, Head Coach of CJA, remembers Emily, “I met Emily when she was very young. She cheered for us for a short time, when the Del Vecchios lived in NJ. I knew she was a special kid then, but I didn’t realize how special she was and how much she would touch my life until she began her battle. I went to visit Emily in the hospital and I remember being in awe of this young child. Still with that huge smile, still with those bright eyes and talking with me like it was just another day. Knowing Emily has definitely changed my life. I think of the struggle that she went through and it makes me think twice about insignificant things. It made me appreciate the important things in life. The strength that Emily showed during that rough time has touched my life and will stay with me forever.”
Joe & Lori: “Emily was with CJA for almost a year, but was forced to leave as her family moved to Indiana. After arriving in her new home and getting settled into her new routine, she wanted to get back into cheering. Having found a local gym, Emily tried out and made it onto the Interactive Academy Allstars at Interactive Academy. Her new coach, Miss Barb, took Emily under her wing and continued the process of teaching Emily not only the physical tricks and moves that are required, but also the emotional traits that she would use later on during her sickness.
The next few years we saw Emily grow as a cheerleader, she was front and center during her teams dance routines, having been deemed the “best jumper” on her team by her teammates, learning how to do back handsprings, and as a back spotter, doing everything possible to ensure her flyer never touched the floor. Even when she occasionally was hit in the face while performing a catch, she maintained her smile, continued the routine, and waited until she was off the floor before shedding a tear.”
Share with us Emily’s battle with cancer.
Joe & Lori: “Being a parent of an all-star cheerleader, you tend to get used to the occasional bump and bruise. So when Emily was complaining that her knee hurt, it didn’t raise any alarms. It wasn’t until during one practice, just a week from a competition in January 2011, that we knew something was wrong. Her coach, Miss Barb, informed us that she stopped practicing because it hurt too much. Emily was not one to stop, ever. We took her to the doctor, thinking it was a muscle tear, fearing she’d miss her competition. The doctor took an x-ray and that’s when we all learned the awful truth. Emily had osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. The competition didn’t see so important any longer as our world was turned upside down. No parent is ever prepared to hear that their child has cancer.
She started on chemo almost immediately. We then had to make a decision… amputate her leg, or use other limb saving alternatives. The only one that would allow her to continue cheering if she got better, was a bone graft. We allowed Emily to choose, and she of course, chose the bone graft option. 7″ of her femur was removed and replaced with a donor bone and lots of titanium hardware. Unfortunately, during the operation, something happened that essentially paralyzed her leg from the knee down. Undaunted, Emily believed she would still recover, she would still cheer, and would even go rock climbing.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair, her spirit never wavered and with the help of her team, even performed a cheer routine in her chair at a Relay for Life fundraiser. At the same time, while in the fight for her own life, when asked about the Relay, she said she was walking for her grandmother who passed away from cancer. Emily always thought of others before herself.
She continued on chemo for roughly the next 8 months. Her scans during that time did not show any spreading of the cancer. However, at the end of her chemo, the hospital did an end of treatment scan, and our hearts were completely broken as they showed the cancer had spread dramatically and quickly. Other rounds of chemo were attempted, and she was even given an experimental drug for a short time, but none had any affect. After roughly 14 months of treatment, we heard what you’re hoping you never hear as a cancer parent… there was nothing left they could do.
When first arriving at the hospital, Peyton Mannings Children’s Hospital, she noticed that though there were some themed rooms such as Peyton Manning rooms, dinosaur rooms, race car rooms, there were no rooms that were geared towards little girls. This, of course, didn’t seem fair to Emily, and she continued to push to have a girl room created. However, to have a room made over, was a costly endeavor. Then, one year later, in January of 2012, Emily met a family, the Markland’s, who invited her to their house to watch the Super Bowl. After this meeting, Joel Markland donated money he won in a contest, to have a cheerleading room created at the hospital. Emily was able to attend the room dedication, being named as Emily’s Cheerleading Room, and see her wish come true. That day was her last good day. Her health turned for the worst after that and a week later, on May 11th, 2012 she lost her battle.”
Please see the following links for more on this touching story:
What is the best piece of advice you could give a parent whose child is battling cancer?
Joe & Lori: “We have had this conversation with several parents. When you find out your child has cancer, stay off the internet, and do not look up statistics. None of them matter. As our Oncologist told us, there is only one outcome that matters, and it’s that of your child. It doesn’t matter if 99% of patients survive if your child is in the 1%. So forget about numbers and focus on your child. Also, don’t be too proud to accept help. People will want to bring dinners, go shopping, give you gift cards, etc. – accept them. The process of battling cancer is a tough tough struggle, it takes a lot of time, it crushes you emotionally and for many, financially. It’s not a battle to fight alone; let your friends and family help.
Accept the help for two main reasons, people need to do something and they are doing what they can to help and support you, and secondly they are giving you the most precious gift… time to enjoy your child help them through their battle and make memories.”
How did Cheers From Emily get started?
Joe & Lori: “Emily had received an iPad while in the hospital from another charitable organization. She used it all the time, but kept asking us for a netbook. Something we never thought about, but it was difficult for someone confined to bed to type on an iPad without a keyboard and she also wanted to play web games that wouldn’t work on the iPad. So, we got her a netbook and upon receiving it, she said that all kids in the hospital should get them so they could email their friends and family and could play games on them. We then asked her if that was something she’d like to do… help other kids get them. She said yes of course, and added in that she wanted to get them cell phones too so they could text and call their friends. However, we told her that cell phones would mean an additional cost to the parents, so that wouldn’t be a good idea. She understood, and agreed, and decided that she wanted to give netbooks and tablets to kids with cancer. That set in motion the idea for Cheers From Emily. When coming up with the name, we knew we had to include something about cheer and of course, her name. So we arrived at Cheers From Emily relatively quickly. The logo on the other hand, was all Emily. She wanted it to have a gold ribbon (represents childhood and bone cancer), a rose (her middle name), and a cheerleader. With the help of more graphically inclined people, we arrived at the logo we have today.”
“Being a mother in this industry, with so many children, I’ve seen the best and worst of so many things. One sad reality is childhood illness. My own child suffers from Type 1 diabetes and we are always on board to try and made a difference. Through cheer we met the Del Vecchio’s and their charity Cheers From Emily. I am humbled at the love and heart that is put into this effort on behalf of such an amazing little girl!” ~ Tawne Cruise (Mother of Jenee and Jaiden)
Joe & Lori: “Unfortunately, Emily passed away before the official organization got off the ground beyond a name, logo, and purpose. Thanks to generous fundraisers from the school she attended and from her cheer gym, Cheers From Emily raised enough funds to begin carrying out Emily’s wishes. Working through children’s hospitals and the child life specialists, we try to get devices to those patients who might not otherwise be able to afford one. Patients can request a donation and have the option of picking from tablets, netbooks, or other electronic devices. We’re still a small charity, but have helped around 20 children get the device they wished for.”
“Emily was a bright young cheerleader with so much confidence in herself. She had the best toe touches on the team. I bet right now she is looking down on us cheerleaders and giving us the power to do jumps like she could. She had so many things about her that touched so many other people. But there was something about her that stood out to me the most. It was when she was in pain and wanted to cry so bad but she stayed strong for the others and thought about how much more pain other people could be in. And because of that she came up with this awesome idea to create a fundraiser called Cheers From Emily. It’s where you can donate money to buy iPads and other things to help the kids during their treatment for cancer. They did a cheer room in memory of Emily! I encourage the people who are reading this to donate some of your money for these kids to not only make them happy but to make Emily look down and smile at us!!” Love, Ella – Ella Laux (Friend and Cheermate of Emily)
What is the driving force behind Cheers From Emily?
Joe & Lori: “Seeing the smiles and excitement on their faces, or getting the thank you notes from their parents telling us how much enjoyment the kids are getting from their gift, are why we love to help and what we know Emily would have wanted. Emily’s foundation allows us to share her love and story with others and bring them joy. It helps us to know she won’t be forgotten.”
For more information on Cheers From Emily, please visit the following links;
Heart of Cheer would like to thank everyone who contributed to this article.
Please see the following important facts on Pediatric Cancer and Osteosarcoma Cancer in the Resource Links below.
Facts about Pediatric Cancer
Please visit the following link for more information:
- Childhood cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death among children and adolescents (ages 1 to 19 years) in the United States, although cancer among children is rare. In 2014, it is estimated that 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 years will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 will die of the disease in the United States
- The causes of childhood cancer are not well understood.
- Survival rates for most childhood cancers vary widely across cancer types. Survival rates for some cancers have improved in recent years, and, overall, more than 80 percent of children and adolescents who are diagnosed with cancer live at least 5 years after their diagnosis. However, for some childhood cancer types, survival rates remain low.
- Children and adolescents who have been treated for cancer need regular follow-up care for the rest of their lives because they are at risk of late side effects that can occur many years later, including second cancers.
Facts about Osteosarcoma
Please visit the following link for more information:
- Osteosarcoma is not a common cancer. Each year, about 800 new cases of osteosarcoma are diagnosed in the United States. About 400 of these are in children and teens.
- Most osteosarcomas occur in children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 30. Teens are the most commonly affected age group, but osteosarcoma can occur in people of any age. About 10% of all osteosarcomas occur in people over the age of 60.
- Osteosarcomas account for about 3% of childhood cancers, but they make up a much smaller percentage of adult cancers.
- The prognosis (outlook) for people with osteosarcoma depends on many factors, including the location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) when it’s first found, and the person’s age.
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