Bald for Good Cause, Cancer Survivor Plans to Raise Funds
By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY March 9, 2007 Ryan Cerullo is going bald again.
The Liberty teenager is leading the pack in raising funds for a March 30 event that will claim his hair along with the locks of several Liberty area teachers and students and fight children’s cancer.
He’s asking for donations in the name of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a non-profit that collects millions of dollars every year to fight cancer in the youth of America.
Cerullo, 16, has a full head of brown hair, but it wasn’t long ago that he sat on stage at the Liberty High School winter concert completely bald.
At the time, Cerullo was fighting Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the body’s immune system at its very core the lymphatic system.
He’s been in remission for 16 months, but mom Fay still remembers the anxious days when she didn’t know what was wrong with her son.
He’d been losing a lot of weight, acting moody.
Fay wrote it off as a teenager thing, kept on her son to eat well.
Then someone in the Liberty community pulled her aside.
“They said, ‘You might not see it, but I do, wake up,’” Fay recalled.
She went home and ordered her son on the scale.
When she saw he’d lost 25 pounds, Fay made an appointment with Ryan’s pediatrician.
At the time, she was worried he might have an eating disorder.
The pediatrician agreed it might be behavioral, but he ordered blood tests to rule out anything else.
When they came back with an extremely high white blood count, the Cerullos were warned to watch for high fever.
That’s when Fay started panicking.
A survivor of thyroid cancer, Fay had done a lot of reading on cancer spreading to the lymphatic system. She knew the signs by heart.
“When they told me to watch for sign of fever, I told my son to strip to his shorts, and I searched him, and I found it,” she recalled.
He had a swollen lymph node, but it wasn’t on the throat where most doctors check in a regular exam.
She called the doctor, and rushed Ryan to Westchester Medical Center. They found stage 2B lymphoma in his chest and he had to have surgery, then four rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 17 days of radiation treatment.
Cerullo said she and husband Mike, a teacher at Roscoe Central School, had an incredible support team pushing them along every step of the way through Ryan’s treatment.
Because Fay has trouble driving long distances, people volunteered to drive the family to Valhalla.
People cooked for them, took turns taking care of Ryan’s brother Dillon, watched the family dogs, even put together a huge basket of Christmas gifts to boost Ryan’s spirits.
“People were just amazing,” Fay recalled. “I’m from Long Island, my mother said, ‘I love you, don’t come back here.’ There’s nothing like this down there.”
The fight isn’t over. Although Ryan is in remission, he is constantly being tested to ensure the cancer hasn’t returned, and doctors aren’t sure how much damage was done to his teenage body by the treatments required to kill the cancer.
He misses more school now than he did when he was sick, Fay admits.
During treatment, Ryan maintained a 94 average, played jayvee soccer, stayed on the Liberty leadership team and played in both the regular and jazz bands.
He missed nine days of school because, Fay said, he told his parents the cancer wasn’t stopping him.
“I sent him to school with next to no white blood cells,” Fay noted. “I know that’s a huge risk … but we wanted him to be as much of a kid as he could be while going through something no kid should have to go through.”
The Cerullos are just thankful their son made it through. Now, they want to give back.
While they were in Westchester, they met a boy who had shaved his head for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation a year before being diagnosed with cancer.
They attended one of the larger local events in Pearl River in 2006, but Ryan wasn’t up for shaving at the time.
Fay started doing her research on the foundation, and learned that a large portion of its funds goes straight to the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), the researchers who developed the protocol for the treatment Ryan underwent at Westchester.
The foundation manages to keep its administrative costs down, so funds raised really do go to the cause.
And on March 30, people from across the area will be able to show their support.
They can sign up to shave their heads along with Ryan at Creative Techniques, Robyn Gannon’s hair salon next door to Computer Doctors in Liberty.
Or they can pony up a donation either online or at the event on Friday, March 30.
The list of shavees is growing, with Ryan, his dad, several Liberty High teens and several Liberty High teachers on the list.
Fay is also looking for volunteers, including registered cosmetologists who can help Gannon shave heads on the night of the event.
For information on how to help or to donate, visit www.stbaldricks.org and search for the Liberty event or call Fay at 292-2085.