Cristina Nardi will never stop fighting for her son, Danny, who was taken by pediatric cancer. A teacher by profession — she is the Director of Basic Language in the French Department at the University of Illinois, and also teaches middle school Spanish at Next Generation School — she is spending Childhood Cancer Awareness Month building more awareness to help in the fight against this disease. A native of Spain, Cristina has been married to Richard Nardi for 14 years. They have three sons — Danny (forever 10), Tommy (10), and Marco (3). She loves spending time with her family, travelling to Spain, cooking and eating delicious food, being with friends, teaching, reading, and fulfilling my purpose of continuing Danny’s fight against pediatric cancer.
See why we think Cristina Nardi is a Chambana Mom to Know.
Q: Please tell us about your son, Danny. What are your most favorite memories of him?
This is how I began my eulogy at Danny’s Memorial: “I do not believe in angels, but I do know that Danny was an angel, from the moment he was born…”.
Danny was very kind, smart, a great friend to have, funny, strong and resilient, but most of all, he was a happy boy.
My most precious memories of him are those small moments we spent as a family, enjoying each other, enjoying these little things life has to offer, these apparently insignificant moments that Danny knew how to appreciate: an evening’s dinner with Danny and Tommy chatting about school, playing hide and seek with his 9 year-old brother, cooking breakfast with his dad while listening to the Beatles, laughing together at the table while listening to my mom speak in English (with a very strong Spanish accent)…
I will always remember and cherish his smile and his laugh.
Q: What is Danny’s Fund and why did you start it?
Right after Danny passed away, Richard and I created Danny’s Fund, a program that belongs to the non-profit organization, I Back Jack, with the mission of raising awareness and much needed funds for childhood cancer research. It is our hope to support research for finding newer and less toxic treatments for kids fighting cancer today. We do not want other kids to endure what Danny had to suffer. We don’t ever want other parents to experience for themselves the pain of such a loss and the pain of watching their child suffer and miss out on the vital experiences of childhood, of having friends, going to parties, riding bikes, going to bed without worrying about tomorrow. We want all children with cancer to have more options and to be able to have their cancer cured.
Q: We understand that this month is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. What do you most want people to understand about pediatric cancer?
Yes, September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Everybody knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it is a wonderful opportunity to focus the nation on the prevalence of this disease. It took many years to raise awareness and, therefore, the funds to be directed to research for breast cancer therapies. Our hope is to create awareness, just like with pink, but with gold, in September. Gold is the color for pediatric cancer awareness.
It is crucial to create awareness in order to secure funding for research, and then discover a cure.
One of the things we should all recognize is that kids get cancer, too; it is actually the No. 1 one disease killer of children in the U.S. The treatments kids get are often the ones created for adults, having, as a consequence, serious and even fatal long-term side-effects. Danny had a secondary cancer due to all the treatments he received for fighting neuroblastoma.
There is little funding directed towards pediatric cancer research, and the reason is… it is not profitable. If percentages are needed to make profits look less important, let’s think about the number of years of life lost to cancer (15 years in average for adults, 71 years in average for kids). But I do believe myself that we should not even look at numbers. We are talking about kids here, our kids, our future.
There is a great need for funding new treatments for kids with cancer. Unfortunately, the National Cancer Institute allocates less than 4% of their cancer research budget to childhood cancers.
Q: What are some of the ways Champaign-Urbana can get involved in Danny’s Fund this month?
The Mayor has declared September Childhood Cancer Awareness Month here in Champaign-Urbana. There is a wonderful community of supporters here in Champaign-Urbana: Danny’s classmates got their request approved last year to have an honorary street sign to honor Danny and all kids touched with cancer. It is called Honorary Danny Nardi Way, and I can see the signs every day when I bring my two sons to school.
Danny’s Fund has created many fundraising events, thanks to the careful and earnest work of its volunteer board members and the heartfelt response of so many people from the community, raising over $50,000 in one year. We were able to grant this amount of money to one of Danny’s pediatric oncology doctors at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York City, who will be using it to fund his clinical trials for pediatric cancer cases.
Many local companies have been part of our events, such as Cream and Flutter, BJ’s Spa, Champaign Country Club, Project TE, Jimmy Johns, Pepsi, The High Dive. This month, we have set some awareness events, where we hope to show our gold ribbons! We do have a Pediatric Cancer Awareness Club at Next Generation School, Danny’s school, and the kids are very involved and active, doing lemonade stands, giving talks about childhood cancer facts, selling gold ribbons. There is a Go Gold basketball game on September 15, at NGS. An event will take place at Cream and Flutter on September 15. We are planning on having a blood drive during September. Danny received many blood transfusions and platelets that kept him alive, and I am so grateful to those unknown donors who made it possible for him to continue in his treatments, giving us years of more precious time with our son.
Q: What is happening at the CarX Crazy K?
The CarX Crazy K is a fun and crazy mud 5K, and all the donations go towards local charities. Danny’s Fund is one of the charities you can choose. We started with a Team Danny two years ago, with 25 participants. Last year, we were 50 runners, and we are expecting to double to number this year! We all wear our Super Danny T-shirt and have lots of fun for a wonderful cause. When I ran last year, I kept thinking of how much Danny would have enjoyed seeing me get so crazy and muddy.
Q: Do you have any tips on talking to kids about pediatric cancer?
This is a hard question… We should not have to talk to kids about pediatric cancer, right? Unfortunately, I had to do it. First, with Danny, when he was diagnosed at 6 years old. Then with his brother, Tommy, who was 4 when we talked. And then, I had to talk with Danny’s kindergarten classmates after he stopped coming to school, being newly diagnosed at that time and in treatment at the local hospital.
It is important to have an age-appropriate conversation with kids, while always being sincere and honest. It is essential to reassure kids (you do not get cancer from something you have done; we are doing everything we can to find a cure; doctors are doing their best to invent treatments to fight cancer; it is not contagious…). Giving them the opportunity to ask questions might be the best approach, while trying to remain calm and reassuring. It is also ok to answer, “I don’t know, but we are hoping for the best”, instead of deliberately lying.
Q: What are some of the ways your family memorializes and includes Danny’s memory in your daily lives?
We do talk about Danny a lot; we make his presence count; we cherish our memories and look at pictures together. We try to celebrate all the things he liked to do, making them special and appreciating what we have and what we do together, experiencing them just like Danny would have done. We love when people talk about Danny and share their memories with us. It does make us sad, too, and we will never escape that sadness, but keeping his memory alive and acknowledging how much joy he brought to our family with his short lifespan is a way to show how much we love him.
Q: What have been your biggest support systems since Danny’s passing, and why?
Our families, on both sides, have been an amazing support system during Danny’s treatments and after his passing; our friends here in Champaign-Urbana, and our friends all over the place who continue to honor Danny and support us no matter what. We are grateful to our community at Next Generation School, who have been caring and involved during the five years of treatments Danny went through, and who continue to show their support and love; and we communicate with other families we know who have also lost a child through cancer, as, on certain levels, they understand the most.
Cristina Nardi was nominated to be a Chambana mom to know. Nominate a mom or dad today — it’s easy!