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WWE stars make day for cancer-stricken boy
Eight-year-old Philip Califano leaned against his mother, gazed at two of his favorite TV stars and smiled.
“Hi, Strawberry Shortcake,” the Oceanside boy said to redheaded WWE superstar Sheamus -- repeating the taunt that Sheamus’ “Friday Night Smackdown” foe, Christian, delivered the night before.
Sheamus just laughed, as did WWE diva Kelly Kelly. The pair took part in an autograph signing Saturday at Roosevelt Field mall, but made some special time for Philip, who has been suffering from a cancerous tumor on his brain stem since 2009. The mall’s Steiner Sports Store, which organized the autograph signing, helped coordinate Philip’s meeting with the wrestlers.
“Philip is a huge wrestling fan,” said his mother, Lisa Cornell. “To actually get to meet some of those people, he is so excited.”
The tumor inhibits Philip's speech and balance, among other central nervous system functions. He has been through quite a bit since his diagnosis, undergoing chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation treatment. This past January, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where he was receiving the treatment, said it wasn’t working and that he has only four to six months to live, according to his mom.
Cornell got Philip home and began seeking second opinions. She eventually started philipjohncalifano.org to raise money for an alternative treatment at the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, which was not covered by her insurance provider.
“It [the treatment] uses peptides that switch off the cancer genes and turns on the genes that fight cancer,” said Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, Philip’s doctor. He added that the treatment has stabilized Philip’s tumor and hopes as treatment continues the tumor will disappear.
“It actually decreased by 2 percent,” Cornell said. “By no means are we out of the woods yet, but we are getting closer to the edge of those woods.”
Treatment was the last thing on anybody’s minds Saturday, though. Paul Castrova, the manager at Steiner, escorted the Califano family around a line of more than 150 people waiting for autographs. The boy glowed as he got a hug from Kelly Kelly and leaned on Sheamus during a photo-op with his cousin Pia, 7, and his 2-year-old brother Dominick.
“We got off to a rough start from the beginning, but it’s great,” Sheamus said, joking about Philip’s hair comment. “It feels awesome, man. Anything we can do to give back.”
Photo: Lisa Cornell of Oceanside takes a photo of her son Philip and niece Pia with WWE stars Sheamus and Kelly Kelly. (June 18, 2011)