Building a Team of Champions to Combat Blood Cancer
How has blood cancer affected me?
My name is Michael Colleluori, and I am the Vice-President of the HEADstrong Foundation. Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori, my brother and best friend, created this foundation while undergoing chemotherapy for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in an effort to battle all forms of Blood Cancer.
Nick and I were inseparable from the time we were little. I always looked up to him and he always took care of me. When I would struggle in school, Nick would sit down with me and make sure I understood every bit of material that was required of me. When I would get in trouble, Nick’s words of wisdom, which were renowned for being beyond his years, would set me on the straight and narrow. People always said that our hearts beat as one, and I was privileged to feel his last
Nick and I were first introduced to the game of lacrosse by a close friend of ours, Michael Hagan. We dreamed of playing together at the D1 level. In high school, I had played attack and Nick played defense. Although Nick was smaller than everyone on the field, he was tougher, had more heart, and was more relentless than anyone else out there. Together we fought for our dream, battling against one another every single day, pushing each other harder and harder, making each other tougher, faster, and stronger than the day before. In the snow, in the rain, or in the sun on a beautiful spring day: Nick was there. At night time when I would look at the bed next to me before I went to sleep: Nick was there. When I would wake up the next morning, eat breakfast, and HEAD to school: Nick was there. Nick was always there.
After countless years of battling each other, day in and day out, our dream finally came to fruition as we both would get to play together at Hofstra University. Nick had already been there for a year, but now we could live out the dream together. The entire summer leading up to my freshmen year was packed with mowing lawns all day, and practicing with Nick for hours after work. Nick had his own stuff to work on, but he would sit there and feed me balls over and over and over again, making sure I was ready for college lacrosse.
A close friend and teammate of mine, Evan Brady, is someone I spent a significant amount of time with when I was not with Nick, at work, or training. Evan was one of the best lacrosse players that I had ever seen, but had to give that up when he was diagnosed with cancer. I visited Evan often while he was going through treatments and when he was in remission to support him in his time of need. His family was like my second family, and I would be there whenever I could. Evan’s health continued to deteriorate; however, he remained strong in otherwise demoralizing circumstances.
When I got to campus early that fall, the excitement of playing with Nick again, D1 lacrosse, and being a college student was short lived. On September 21, 2005 a ticking time bomb of unrelenting pain was set in my heart. Things would never be the same.
I was walking out of English Class at Hofstra and was greeted by my coach, John Danowski. Coach Danowski had asked that I follow him to his office to help him out with something. I followed reluctantly, unsure of what to think of this odd request. We entered his office and standing there were my parents, a doctor, a counselor, the Hofstra men’s lacrosse coaches, and my brother, Nick. Before anyone could move, Nick approached me with open arms and said, “I have cancer but everything is going to be alright, I’m more worried about you.” As the emotions surged through my body, my mother’s phone rang: it was news that Evan had passed away that morning. As if Nick’s diagnosis was not grim enough, I now had to come to terms with the death of my close friend, who had fallen victim to cancer. The sense of foreboding in the room was overwhelming.
All of my life, Nick paved the road for me, however, during his 14 month battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, our roles slowly changed. I started to become his source of strength, his rock that propped him up against all obstacles that he faced. Given Nick’s history of overcoming all challenges that life had in store for him, I had the utmost faith that he would persevere and we would be back at Hofstra battling on the playing field once more.
The more his conditions worsened, the more Nick needed me. I had to do things for Nick that only a brother could do without hesitation. I would do it 27 million times over just to see him again. Although Nick’s health deteriorated and he increasingly needed more attention for even the most menial daily tasks, his strength never wavered. In Nick I found the strength to be a better player, a better student, a better person, and a better brother.
In the movie “Something for Joey,” a Penn State football star, John Cappelletti, is motivated by his dying younger brother to overcome all odds. John’s younger brother, Joey, has Leukemia, another form of Blood Cancer, and asks John to do the impossible: score 4 touchdowns against West Virginia. John’s love for Joey and his enormous heart made him scrape and claw every single play that game to score 4 touchdowns for his brother. Upon achieving what John had thought was impossible, Joey asked John to score 4 more the next game.
In 1973, John Cappelletti won the Heisman Trophy, of which he dedicated to his brother. John overcame all odds by finding strength in his brother Joey. I’d like to take this time to openly thank Nick, my brother and best friend, for giving me the strength to scrape and claw for HEADstrong every single day. Even when it seems impossible and all odds are against us, I will never stop for your cause and I will never let you down. You were my strength at Hofstra and the reason why I was able to become an All-American, make academic honor roll, and achieve all that I have been able to overcome. I wish you were there to share it with me. You deserve it more than I do.
Nick, I carry out your legacy 27 hours a day, 427 days a year through the HEADstrong Foundation and with the University of Pennsylvania Lymphoma Team as a Research Assistant, which was the same team that once fought to save your life.
I wake up every morning to an empty bed that was once filled by you. My 5’10” figure burns inside to face the reality that you are no longer here. I’d give anything to hear your voice, and your chuckle one last time. I continuously find myself trapped in old memories with you, as if I would wake up from a terrible nightmare and we would be back at Hofstra in fall of 2005 with not a care in the world except for how I would fight for your respect at the college level. Nick, your death has been so hard for me, so extremely hard for all of us, but you have driven me to overcome adversity, to keep pushing forward and to help those less fortunate then myself. I have now joined a new community: the blood cancer community. This is the community that you did not get the chance to choose: a community that stole you from us forever. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, every 4 minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer and every 10 minutes some dies from a blood cancer. Nick, I challenge people every day to stand up and join our RELENTLESS battle against blood cancer. We will never stop: we love you too much to let you down.