BROAD CHANNEL — Rocco Pisani is hitting home runs on and off the field.
“I’m still making the most of every moment I have with family and friends,” Rocco said in early May.
Last October, The Tablet shared the story of Rocco, an 11-year-old who was diagnosed with leukemia and celebrated his birthday at Cohen Children’s Medical Center while receiving intense chemotherapy treatments.
Now, he’s entered maintenance — the second half of his treatment — and has been doing well.
Rocco, who wants to be a personal trainer when he grows up, is building up his muscles to get back on the field doing what he loves — playing on Catholic Youth Organization baseball team with St. Camillus-St. Virgilius Parish in Rockaway Beach. He takes precautions while playing sports including wearing a mask, wearing a protective plate over his chemo port, and keeping an eye on his blood counts.
“It’s really fun,” Rocco said about playing team sports again. “They [my friends] were really excited to see me play again and it’s cool to get back into everything.”
The Pisanis learned of Rocco’s diagnosis a year ago last month, when fears of the coronavirus were still running high in the city. Rocco immediately began going into the hospital every 10 days for three-day stays to receive first-line chemotherapy treatment. The reason for optimism is that leukemia cells continue to remain undetected in Rocco’s bone marrow.
“It’s just such a relief,” his mom, Jamie said, “and we’re so happy and grateful that he can kind of be like a normal kid again.”
However, his treatment protocol still requires additional outpatient and inpatient chemotherapy for the next two and a half years, on a less frequent basis, to ensure cancer does not return. Rocco takes daily and weekly chemo pills and goes to the hospital once a month for treatment.
“Then, every three months, he has a spinal tap,” Jamie said, explaining that her son is still adjusting to the new medications. “It still seems like a lot, but — for us — we feel like we’re on vacation because it’s not like being there [at the hospital] every day.”
With summer just beginning, the Pisanis plan to keep taking life day-by-day, with Rocco’s health at the forefront. For now, their summer schedule includes bicycling, fishing, and spending time at the beach.
“Now that he’s in this easier phase, we just started leaving the house for things besides the hospital,” Jamie said, noting that their first non-medically-related outing as a family during the pandemic was a New York Rangers-New Jersey Devils game at Madison Square Garden in April.
“It almost felt kind of weird because I’ve been, like, so crazy about COVID and not going anywhere,” Rocco said after attending the hockey game. “When we went to the game, it felt normal again.”
Rocco remains committed to helping children his age who have been diagnosed with cancer. He has Facetimed other such kids, letting them know that they aren’t alone as they deal with their own diagnoses. He has also donated 300 multi-colored pillboxes to help them keep track of their medications when they come home from the hospital.
“Making even just one person smile makes me happy,” Rocco said. “It’s just a really good feeling to know that you help somebody in some way and that you can make what they’re going through better.”