“Tough Cookie” Julianna Vano Fights Lymphoma

April 27, 2015 by karen

— written by Club Fit Member and Guest Blogger Lisa Skelton

 

Young Club Fit Member Juliana Vano battles lymphoma with attitude and energy to spare. She is “One Tough Cookie!”

"Tough Cookie" Julianna Vano Fights Lymphoma
Club Fit Member Julianna Vano is “One Tough Cookie.”

“One Tough Cookie”! That is how Julianna Vano’s family and friends describe the energetic, nonstop 10-year-old. And she has proven this to be true since her diagnosis in December of Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma, the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, accounting for up to 30 percent of newly diagnosed cases in the United States. It is an aggressive cancer, but the Vanos, members of Club Fit Jefferson Valley, reacted quickly, and Julianna is well on her way back to good health.

Mom Joann noticed something was wrong back in November, when Julianna became lethargic and was experiencing abdominal pain. “She’s my Energizer bunny!” she said of Julianna, an avid dancer, and soccer and basketball player. “I knew something was wrong when her energy dipped.” The initial bloodwork at their doctor’s office hinted at Hepatitis A, but when it didn’t improve over two weeks, they went to Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital and scans revealed masses on all of Julianna’s organs. Treatment was started immediately.

Julianna was on a 20-day chemotherapy cycle, checking in to the hospital every 20 days for 5 to 7 days, then taking a week or two off. But she remained active while she was home, continuing her dance classes 3 to 4 days a week (hip-hop, jazz, ballet…you name it, she does it!) and actually competing this past March! She also recently performed at the halftime show during a Westchester Knicks game. Because of the risk of infection, Julianna was taken out of school and her tumbling classes, but is being tutored at home. Does she miss school? “I think she misses her friends,” laughs Joann.

It was supposed to be a three-month process, but the treatment schedule became longer when a follow-up scan showed a small mass remained on Julianna’s kidney, but the hope is that the additional treatments she is receiving now will take care of that. Going forward, they expect her to have four rounds of “maintenance” treatments, then be free and clear by August. “Through most of this experience, if Julianna didn’t lose her hair or wear a face mask, you’d never know she was sick!” says Joann.

The whole Vano family is active, with Julianna and her two siblings, Bella and Tommy, frequenting Club Fit’s Energy Center, and Mom and Dad spending time in the Fitness Center. As mentioned earlier, Julianna plays travel soccer and travel basketball, and is also a Girl Scout, and plans to return to her activities once treatment is completed. Club Fit is showing their support by hosting two fundraisers for the family at both Club Fit locations, a Spin Class and Kids’ Zumba class. May 20th at Briarcliff and May 27th at Jefferson Valley. All proceeds are going back to the Vano family.

The Vanos are also starting a team for Yorktown’s Relay for Life, aptly named “Team Tough Cookie” (which at this writing is the top fundraising team so far)! Look for their tent on Friday, June 12 at Jack DeVito Field in Yorktown Heights. But you can also get in on the action early by joining us at Club Fit for the Spin and Zumba events, and showing your support for our Tough Cookie Julianna and her family!

Diana Pernicano — Cancer Warrior and Club Fit Member

May 20, 2014 by karen

Diana Pernicano, Cancer Warrior and Club Fit Member
Cancer Warrior and Club Fit Member Diana Pernicano and her father, Club Fit Member Ted Pernicano

When you are a nineteen-year-old college student, the last thing you expect to hear are the words, “You have cancer.” But that’s exactly what happened to Diana Pernicano this past November, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. Luckily, Diana had a happy ending. On February 28, after three months of intense chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering, Diana was declared cancer-free.

She decided to make a positive out of a negative by learning as much as she could about the disease, and devoting herself to educating others, kids in particular, about cancer. “Kids in middle school and high school need to understand that it’s important to go to the doctor and to stay healthy, that cancer doesn’t just happen to adults,” she said. But people of all ages also need to understand that cancer doesn’t always have to end badly. She said she was surprised by how many of her classmates assumed she would not survive. She’s happy to say, “Today, two out of three cancer patients will become a survivor.”

Diana has also devoted herself to fundraising, and is currently working with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness and funds. She had already been participating in the Yorktown Relay for Life event before her diagnosis, partly because her father also suffered through a cancer scare nine years ago. He was diagnosed with a cancer of the spine that was also treated successfully.  (Their cancers are not related.)

After her diagnosis and treatment, Diana was invited to speak at the Relay for Life kickoff event in February, and did so well that she was invited to help with the speakers in the New York City office. “Survivors who I heard speak would talk about the experiences they had, but not about specific programs that helped them get through the experience.”

She impressed enough people with her story and attitude to be featured in an ACS video distributed to colleges across the country educating college students about the disease, as well as the importance of sharing stories about experiences with cancer and reaching out to others. Visit YouTube to see it for yourself! “It’s such a different perspective when you go through this at my age,” she says. “It’s also so hard, no matter what your age, to really understand what a patient goes through, unless you have cancer yourself.” Diana also invites everyone to read more about her experience on her blog, at dianapernicano.wordpress.com.

Diana will continue her studies in nursing at Mount St. Mary College in the Fall, where she was attending school when she was diagnosed. Her focus will be on oncology nursing, which she was already pursuing because of her father’s experience with cancer. But now she feels she can contribute so much more to cancer patients, because she has the unique perspective of knowing exactly how they feel.

Diana has a good role model in her father, a Club Fit member who was a runner before his diagnosis and used Club Fit to help him get back on track. He is still at Club Fit almost every day. Diana became a full member three years ago. She uses the Fitness Center, plays racquetball, shoots hoops in the gym and enjoys Zumba — an all-around member! She also attended a Cancer Wellness session or two, and although she was too sick to participate more, she thinks it’s a great resource for others going through what she did. Diana is on the cross-country team at Mount St. Mary, and intends to return to the team in the fall.

Diana will have her own team for the first time at this year’s Relay for Life, “Diana’s Lymphomaniacs,” and has already raised more than $10,000. Part of that number includes funds raised on May 18 with a foul-shooting competition for Mildred E. Strang Middle School teachers and students at Club Fit Jefferson Valley. Forty students and 17 MESMS teachers participated! The actual Relay for Life event will take place on June 13th at Jack DeVito Memorial Field in Yorktown, and the Lymphomaniacs are happy to accept donations at her Relay for Life page! For more information on how you can join the fight against cancer, visit www.cancer.org.