Nick’s House Stories: The Batzel Family

By Ed Morrone
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‘It’s been a tremendous blessing’: Joe Batzel, pictured with daughter Joann (left) and wife Janet, has been staying at Nick’s House Swarthmore while his lung cancer is being treated with proton beam therapy at HUP. Had a room at the house not opened up, Joann said they would have returned home to Scranton for ‘the long goodbye.’

With a fresh lung cancer diagnosis in tow, Joe Batzel made no bones about it: if not for the HEADstrong Foundation, he’d be home in the Scranton area, enjoying whatever time in his life he had left with his family.

The discovery of the tumor — wrapped around one of Batzel’s main arteries, making standard radiation treatment not viable — in February left local doctors without much of a positive prognosis for the family. Also too dangerous to simply remove the tumor via surgery, the best physicians could do was keep Batzel comfortable.

The Batzel family traveled to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) in Philadelphia for a second opinion, and were uplifted when they were told doctors could treat — and possibly cure — Joe’s cancer with innovative proton beam therapy. However, long-term lodging (Batzel’s treatments would take seven weeks) became another hurdle to clear, especially after the hotel in which they were staying doubled its nightly rate without warning. And so they began to mentally prepare to return to northeastern Pennsylvania to spend whatever time they had left together.

Then, a miracle happened: a HUP social worker told Joann about HEADstrong; her application for Nick’s House was accepted, and the fight against Joe’s cancer was back on.

“If not for the people of HEADstrong, we’d be back in Scranton to get our final things in order,” Joe Batzel said through tears during a recent sit down at Nick’s House Swarthmore with his wife, Janet, and daughter, Joann. “We would have had no hope at all except the hope we have in God. It all goes back to the fact that our hope would be dashed to pieces if not for here.

“We can’t emphasize enough how important this organization has become to us. When all hope had crashed into the rocks, someone said to Joann, ‘Here’s a number.’ Without the generosity of the people involved here, I’m not sure where we’d be headed.”

Joann affirmed her father’s version of the story.

“Regular radiation treatment in Scranton would have bought him some time … the long goodbye,” she said. “We were resigned to inferior treatment and that Dad wasn’t going to be here much longer. It’s such a relief. This is a very special time I get to spend with my father, and as a daughter I’m grateful to Nick’s House that we’re able to get the treatment that may cure my father, allowing us to have him for longer.”

The Batzel’s all described themselves as your typical American family that leads normal, simple lives: they have their faith in God and they have each other, and Nick’s House has been a catalyst for both of those things to endure.

Nick’s House has offered the Batzels two invaluable things during their cancer odyssey: the feel of home, and the ability to surround themselves with other patients and caregivers who can relate to and empathize with the emotional and physical toll the disease places on families.

“We went home to Scranton for the Fourth of July, and when we pulled back into the driveway for the next treatment, I said, ‘We’re home,’” Joann said. “It truly feels like a second home. Cancer doesn’t discriminate: young, old, it just doesn’t. It’s a blessing to be here with other families going through what you are. There’s encouragement, camaraderie and support from people you’ve never met. When you’re all drowning in the same ocean, you cling to each other and hold each other up. That’s what we found here.”

Added Janet: “There are not a whole lot of words to explain how thankful we feel.”

The ability to stay at Nick’s House while undergoing treatment has given Joe a much-needed shot in the arm. A former serviceman in the active reserves for eight years, Joe’s not afraid of facing a fight, and the entire experience with HEADstrong has produced immense gratitude, as opposed to the hopeless feeling he had been experiencing.

“The first day I was here, I saw this little six-year-old girl with cancer,” Joe said. “You see it’s not just us; it’s little ones all the way up through us. It’s not a matter of who you are, but a matter of the need that is there. These people have become like family, and a week ago we didn’t know them.

“There are a lot of people being tremendously helped by this organization. We are here to share our story, because there are a lot of people out there who need help. With so much hatred in the world today, this place is refreshing, to the point where it’s almost impossible to paint the whole picture of what this organization does. It’s amazing.”

The HEADstrong Foundation™ is a 501(c)3 committed to improving lives affected by cancer, founded by the late Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori. The non-profit organization plays a vital role as a direct resource to families overcome by the hardships of cancer. HEADstrong provides a variety of services, which range from financial assistance to funding capital projects to peer mentorship and, most notably, HEADstrong operates Nick’s House™, a guest family home providing more than 2,555 nights of complimentary lodging and support to families displaced in the pursuit of life-saving cancer treatment. Today, Nick’s vision is being fulfilled through the relentless efforts of his family, athletes and supporters across the country uniting in the fight against cancer. For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation and how to donate, host a fundraiser or volunteer, please visit