How a Farmingdale teacher gives back to kids with cancer
Tracy Vicere is a survivor. What else would you call someone who beat both Hodgkin’s Disease Stage 3A and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 1A at the age of 16? Then in June 2009, 20 years to the day she received her cancer diagnosis, the Wantagh resident was informed she had multiple sclerosis. But rather than get knocked down by a third major health setback, Vicere instead focused on the positive and founded the nonprofit Friends & Angels: The Tracy Vicere Foundation in 2011, a dream that evolved from a New Year’s resolution into reality.
“I was sick of making New Year’s resolutions that nobody really keeps and was thinking about what I could do to give back to [Cohen Children’s Medical Center],” —where she was treated when it was known as Schneider’s Vicere recalled. “As a childhood cancer survivor, you deal with a lot of survivor guilt. I’ve always thought why was I still here while friends that were less sick than me didn’t survive.” Then the idea for a charity that supports hospitalized children took shape. “I was thinking about all the things I wish I had when I was 16 in the hospital that patients at that time didn’t have,” Vicere said. “You would just see people during Christmas time, which is when people always wanted to donate, but after that, you would never see anyone or receive anything else.”
Vicere started jotting down ideas for a charity and enlisted her mom Carol as vice president, rounding out the nascent nonprofit’s board with best friends Rosa Alaimo-Quinn and Rosemary Van Nostrand, who serve as Friends & Angels treasurer and secretary respectfully. The foundation supports patients in the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center (“CCMC”) Hematology/Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant Unit and Survivors Facing Forward Program. Among its many services and resources, Friends & Angels sponsors Cohen’s HOPES (Helping our Peers Endure Stress) program and its inaugural conference, decorates the rooms of bone marrow transplant patients to make them a more pleasant environment, along with myriad donations including Smart Board Technology for doctors to collaborate with families on patient care and providing medical binders to help cancer survivors in The Survivors Facing Forward Program organize post-treatment medical documents.
The program’s initial efforts started out small, with the organization’s first fund raiser being held in October 2011 at Jackie Reilly’s Restaurant in Bethpage, where 11 prize baskets were auctioned off netting a sum total of $5,000. As of the last fund raiser that was held in 2019 (last year’s was canceled due to the pandemic), 120 people attended to bid on 45 baskets with the takeaway winding up between $16,000 and $17,000. To date, the foundation has raised more than $150,000. For Vicere, a special education teacher at Farmingdale’s Woodward Parkway Elementary School, support from family, friends and peers have provided constant inspiration for her dating back to the educator’s teenage cancer battles.
“I had really good friends at the hospital that included nurses that were right out of nursing school, so they were only five years older than me,” she said. “I’m still friends with them now. I’ve been to their weddings and their kids have helped me with the fundraisers. People you meet along the way at the hospital were my second family.”
The Farmingdale native from Intervale Avenue has been humbled by how much the staff and students of the same school she attended have rallied behind her efforts with Friends & Angels.
“My [school] is amazing,” she said. “I give a shout-out to Woodward Parkway Elementary School because the number of things they support us with. It’s nice to see that young kids want to get involved. Since I started all of this, the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have done collections for me. For Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, [school officials Patrick Klocek and Jenn DeHayes] let us collect a dollar to wear yellow and everybody in the building wears yellow. This year, I didn’t have the fund raiser, so teachers took it upon themselves to start a fund raiser within the building. We raised close to $5,000. They said they felt bad that we weren’t able to do a normal fund raiser. It was insane, especially during this time, where we’re at a total standstill.”
Vicere’s desire to work with children and later wind up as an advocate dates back to when she was five and wanted to be a teacher, playing school with her dolls. When she was in the hospital as a teen, she also gravitated towards helping newly diagnosed younger patients acclimate to their new normal.
“I think what made me realize that I wanted to do special education was when I was sick and in the hospital, I was one of the teenagers that would hang out in the play room with the younger kids,” she said. “We’d do spin art, play foosball and watch movies. I would always just want to help anyone who needed any help. Whenever there was a newly diagnosed kid under a certain age, I was the kid they’d ask if I minded talking to them [about the new diagnosis] and I would always be happy to do it. I like helping kids that need more help than your average person,” Vicere said. “I tell kids within my building that have had cancer or sickle cell how to navigate it. I might not have been in first grade and was older when I had cancer, but I know what it’s like to get up and not feel good.”
Visit www.tracyvicerefoundation.org to find out more about the Tracy Vicere Foundation.