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Dying student’s wish has led to help for almost 14,000 families of cancer patients

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HEADstrong Foundation, begun in a hospice bed, assists with the basics, so loved ones can focus on what's important

Ten years ago, Nick Colleluori was in bed, unable to do much of anything—certainly not able to return to college, where he hoped his studies would lead to a career in non-profit work.

He died soon afterwards, having battled acute lymphoma for more than a year. But something he did from his hospice bed before he passed away has yielded much fruit over the past 10 years.

Colleluori knew of the struggles families go through when a loved one is desperately battling a cancer. He wanted to see other families relieved of just some basic concerns.

He and his parents had tried several remedies for his condition. When he went for a clinical trial at National Institutes of Health, his parents were forced to stay in a tiny room in Washington to be near him.

“These were the stresses that [he] wanted to alleviate for families already going through so much hurt,” according to an article in the Washington Post. “In the 14 months between his diagnosis and death, Nick Colleluori started a foundation from his hospital bed that he envisioned as a place cancer patients and their families could turn for financial and emotional support.”

And he made his mother, Cheryl, promise to keep the work going.

“He held my hand and said, ‘Will you promise me that you will continue with the foundation so other people will benefit from my life?’” Colleluori said. “That is the promise that fuels my effort because he was so selfless. He never said, ‘Why me?’ It was: ‘Let’s just help others.’”

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Cheryl Colleluori made the promise to her son, and kept it, quitting her job to build his HEADstrong Foundation. It has raised more than $9 million and helped 13,572 families in a number of ways, she told the Post. In September, Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan pledged to donate $15 for every catch made during the season.

They’ve tried to identify unmet needs that will help families whose worlds are torn apart by a cancer diagnosis, the newspaper said. Among other things, the foundation offers a single­-family home for families coming to Philadelphia for cancer treatments. That’s something that harks back to a time when they’d met an out-of-town couple in a hospital parking lot there. When they weren’t with their daughter in the hospital, they were sleeping in their car. They asked the Colleluoris if there was a place nearby where they could shower and do laundry. Colleluori’s husband took the family home to bathe and wash their clothes.

Now, the HEADstrong Foundation owns one home strictly for this purpose and is hoping to purchase a second.

“The families all have something in common: Their child or loved one is fighting for their life. You’re going to walk to the end of the earth to try and save their lives,” Cheryl Colleluori said. “They just want to get home. They’ve left their support at home, they are here with the hope of a lifesaving measure and we want to be the easy part of that process.”

The foundation is planning to purchase a 7-­bedroom home near Swarthmore College that could accommodate up to 14 people.

Cheryl Colleluori is resolved to continuing building what her son started.

“What was to be his career path is now his legacy,” she said. “I know someday when we meet again he’s going to show me the biggest smile and say that he was so proud of what we’ve done.”

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