When Matteo was four and a half years old, he started to go through a series of physical and emotional changes that his mother Jennifer knew were not normal. Matteo often complained that he was tired, and his head and stomach hurt. Soon after, he began vomiting a clear liquid. Then Jennifer noticed he was suddenly irritable and throwing unusual tantrums, and soon after his eyes began to turn inward.

Her persistence to find answers led to Cohen Children’s Medical Center and a diagnosis of a brain tumor called an Astrocytoma. While Jennifer knew it would be a difficult road for Matteo during treatment, she also worried about the effect on her entire Long Island family’s well-being.

She knew it would mean giving up her part-time job at a doctor’s office, spending time away from Matteo’s twin sister Nicolette and his older six-year-old brother Nico, and impact her husband Anthony Jr.’s work as a salesman. She also knew that because of COVID-19 they could not safely have anyone in their home to help.

“It was unimaginable news and our entire lives had to change drastically,“ Jennifer noted. “There were so many things to consider. I was trying to figure out what everyone was feeling, and we did not have the words to explain it to our little ones. Then we had the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As the family worked to juggle the demands of Matteo’s treatment and their lives, the hospital social worker recommended they contact Friends of Karen to help. Jennifer describes the help that followed from social worker Marla and sibling support specialist Siobhan as life changing.

“Marla gave me support as a mother by constantly texting and calling,” Jennifer recalled. “She arranged for us to get help with travel expenses to the hospital. Siobhan knew how to explain what cancer is to the kids at their level and gave them books to learn more. She helped them explore their feelings about the illness through artwork and other activities. I did not have proper language for that. Our family could not have gotten through Matteo’s illness without them.” Jennifer fondly remembers that Friends of Karen always made their children feel extra special by surprising them with birthday and holiday gifts. She is grateful that during a difficult time the children had Friends of Karen virtual activities like “Friends Having Fun” to enjoy being with other kids.

Despite the impact of Matteo’s illness on the family, the brightest spot in their journey was Matteo himself. Jennifer is amazed that he never complained and how strong and brave he was throughout treatment, which he completed in August 2021.

“Matteo got us through it all,” Jennifer said. “And we are so proud that despite his own illness, he thought of helping other kids in the hospital by starting what we called Matteo’s Magical Toy Drive at Cohen’s for the holidays. He gave out gifts to the children at the hospital the past two years with a big smile on his face. He really is our superhero.“

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