Dana Gentile volunteered to assist charitable causes since in high school.
Even now, when one of her daughters, Gia, is fighting a form of childhood cancer, the Gentile family continues to help others.
The family is working with area volunteers to plan Gia’s Glam Gala, a fun family event scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26 at the Mount Pleasant Community Center in Valhalla. Proceeds will benefit Band of Parents, an organization to help children battling Neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer that forms in nerve tissue.
Gia, a Hawthorne Elementary School first-grader, was a healthy girl until last fall. On Nov. 1, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma. The diagnosis was made following two weeks of various symptoms, including complaints of pain and a persistent low-grade fever. Visits to doctors and emergency rooms followed.
Gia’s father, Carmine, said the disease often begins in the adrenal gland and 75 percent of those with the illness have masses in their bodies. The cancer typically spreads from the torso to the bone marrow, he said.
The diagnosis was “a total shock,” Dana Gentile said.
Gia has been undergoing treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. She has been receiving chemotherapy and will have immunotherapy. Following the immunotherapy treatments, Gia will receive a series of seven vaccine shots, new therapy designed for children with Neuroblastoma, Gentile said. Funding for the vaccine came from Band of Parents, a key part of its mission to raise money to fund research for treatments for childhood cancers and research.
“We wanted to give back,” Gentile said. “Childhood cancer (research) is hugely underfunded.”
Researchers were also able to create immunotherapy treatments for childhood cancers through funding from Band of Parents, she said.
Thus far, Gia is following her protocol and her family is hopeful she will win her fight, Gentile said. According to the National Institute of Cancer, by 2010, well before the vaccine was created, the critical five-year survival rate had risen to 68 percent of children between 1 and 14 years old. Each patient is in a different risk group that can increase or reduce that figure.
Gentile said her family – Gia has two younger siblings, Santino, 3, and Jordana, 5 – has been doing their best to cope with Gia’s illness. Gentile, a teacher in the Pelham School District, and her husband, a Harrison police officer, were able to take off from their careers, she said.
Gia is dealing with the ordeal in a positive manner.
“Kids are resilient,” she said. “Our number one goal through all this was to keep her happy.”
Gia’s teachers have been coming to her house to provide lessons, Gentile said.
“We’re trying to keep the everyday routine,” Dana Gentile said. “It’s not the life that we wanted right now, but we’re dealing with it. We’re hopeful.”
The community has also been providing support to the family. In December, Berger Hardware in Hawthorne raised $10,000 for childhood cancer research through a Cookies for Cancer event in which donated cookies were sold. Other organizations provided $20,000 in matching funds.
Gia’s Glam Gala fundraiser is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 26 at the Mount Pleasant Community Center, located at 125 Lozza Drive in Valhalla. Admission is $10. There will be a disc jockey, a photo booth, makeup for children, face painting, glitter tattoos, head shavings and hair extensions. Items will be sold and there will be raffles.
“It’s going to be a wonderful event,” Gentile said, adding that she’s optimistic that 500 people would attend. Not only does Gentile want the event to raise money for Band of Parents, she said she hoped it would raise public awareness about her daughter’s disease. Gia has also helped plan the upcoming event, her mother said.
“She’s extremely excited,” Gentile said.
Donations can be made by going to www.bandofparents.org, clicking on donate and then a link to donate specifically to help Gia.
For more information about the fundraiser, contact Dana Gentile at 914-438-6466 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.