Nicholas Franzi, Sachem High School North
Nicholas Franzi completed the last few months of his junior year and has spent his entire senior year fighting for his life at a hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
He is on the winning side of that battle right now. If he can keep his chronic myelogenous leukemia in check, he may make it back home to Lake Grove in time for graduation on June 22.
Franzi, 17, was diagnosed with the disease in January 2010 and endured a series of medical setbacks that resulted in his leaving Long Island in March 2012 for treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
He's been cancer-free for a year, and doctors are discussing whether he can attend his graduation.
In his mind, Franzi is already there.
"After graduation I can't wait to just hang out with my friends and family," he wrote in an email. "I want to get more involved with my charity [The Nicholas Orlando Franzi Foundation for Children with Cancer] and just enjoy being home."
But many times in the past year, his life has been a series of what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong moments.
Franzi was diagnosed when he was a freshman. From the start, guidance counselor Christine Launer said, he was optimistic and headstrong.
First, Franzi went on a trial drug in 2010, but after about a year he developed a rare mutation to it and learned he needed a bone-marrow transplant. The school and community came together to find a match. Yet, Franzi, an avid baseball player, didn't want to be different or stand out as the sick kid.
"At one point Nick was cleared to play baseball, and he didn't even tell the coach that he had leukemia because he didn't want to be treated differently," Launer said.
No perfect match was found, so doctors chose to use his mother's bone marrow. But adversity struck again -- Carol Franzi had a serious heart condition and needed open-heart surgery. They had to use his older sister, Alexandra, who was considered a subpar match.
Launer recalled what Franzi said to her as he was leaving for St. Jude. "This is just something I have to go through. I'll get through it, and I'll come back even stronger."
But fate would again delay his return to health and Long Island. To prepare for the transplant of his sister's healthy cells, Franzi had to undergo intense chemotherapy and treatments. The transplant was done, but soon after, the family learned it wasn't a success. The next option was to use his father Sal's bone marrow.
This time the cells grafted, and on June 28, 2012, Franzi was declared cancer-free.
Meanwhile, his mother's heart troubles continued, and she had to return to New York to have surgery. Then, in yet another setback, Franzi became seriously ill with the Epstein-Barr virus, a common human virus that caused high fevers and required Franzi to be sedated and placed on a ventilator.
Despite his multiple medical obstacles, it is looking optimistic that Franzi may be able to come back to Long Island. He'll be returning to his home in a wheelchair, having lost the use of his feet due to the chemotherapy.
"Giving up baseball and trying out for college teams this year, and his dream of being a police officer since he was very young, have all been put on hold and may never happen," his mother said. "Yet, he is still positive and not giving up."
Back home, the Sachem school and community have rallied for him, hosting a Franzi day to raise money and creating the catchphrase "Stay Strong Franzi."
The family updates the community on Franzi's status at the blog nickscmljourney.blogspot.com.
While in the hospital, Franzi has had a tutor, and Sachem educators have sent schoolwork that he has completed between treatments.
Franzi's plans for the future are on hold until he gets his strength back, but he said he would like to go to college.
"The recovery of my immune system could take nine to 12 months," he said. "While I'm home I plan on applying to colleges and taking classes online until I am able to be around large groups of people and actually go to school. I was always interested in criminal justice and wanted to be a police officer, but for now I think I will concentrate on getting some core college courses under my belt."
Whatever he chooses to become, in his mother's eyes he is an inspiration and a role model.
"From the time he was diagnosed, life has been incredibly difficult for Nick, yet you would never know it because he has stayed positive and strong through it all," said Carol Franzi. "He never complained, never felt sorry for himself and never looked for sympathy. He just did whatever he had to do to beat this cancer and move on with his life."
What makes you extraordinary"I don't feel like I'm extraordinary. I just did what I had to do to get through it."