On Jan. 15, Anthony Pierotti was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He’s 12 years old, and since then has undergone numerous spinal taps and grueling chemotherapy that will continue for the next two years. Radiation treatments will soon start.
Anthony spent two months in Boston Children’s Hospital and then started outpatient chemotherapy at the Jimmy Fund Clinic in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. A bad reaction to the drugs landed him back in the ICU.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the Pierottis live in Hanover, and the town has come to their rescue. The effort is largely the work of Christa Monahan, who taught Anthony and his twin brother, Nick, in her technology classes for five years at Center/Sylvester Elementary School, and now teaches little brother Matt. Next year, she will have the fourth Pierotti son, Owen, now 5.
“Anthony is one of those students who stands out in the crowd,” says Monahan. “He’s very sweet, thoughtful, well-spoken, well-behaved, and attentive. He’s an ideal student.”
Shortly after Anthony was diagnosed, Monahan visited him in the hospital and decided what he needed was a website (www.hopeforanthony.weebly.com) to connect him to his friends and extended family and family friends.
“Everyone in the community wanted to know how he was doing and to find out how they could support the family,” she says. “You don’t want to bombard them with questions. But to be able to read and respond in the moment is meaningful for everyone.”
She set it up so she could add updates and photos, videos, and messages and give Anthony a chance to blog. There’s a message board, photo album, fund-raising page, updates, and Anthony’s blog. There’s also a meal-donating page.
The website introduction states: “We know the Pierottis can’t do this alone, but we also know their Hanover community would never let them!” Monahan went on to encourage Web visitors to record a video message for Anthony: “Keep sending Anthony well wishes and stories from home so he doesn’t feel alone.”
In an early post, Anthony wrote: “I know me being sick has really worried a lot of you and it must be hard for you . . . I love all of you.”
The website was just the beginning. “Christa became our spokesman, and everyone went through her,” is the way Anthony’s father, Jim, puts it. “It has just been overwhelming.”
The Pierotti family owned Bent’s Cookie Factory in Milton for 65 years before selling it and moving to Hanover 12 years ago. Jim is a financial adviser at HarborOne Bank in Bridgewater. Anthony’s mother, Brenda, is a nurse at South Shore Hospital, now on family leave during the medical crisis the family is facing.
Next, Monahan found two companies that would make T-shirts. The Imaging Company, owned by Hanover resident Pam Manning, promised to make “Anthony Strong” T-shirts at cost. A New Hampshire company made “Stay +” T-shirts with a portion of the proceeds going to the Pierotti family.
The shirts were offered on the website, and hundreds of them quickly sold out. That’s because the elementary school and Hanover Middle School, where Anthony and Nick are now enrolled, held a “Stay Positive for Pierotti Day” on March 14. Many students wore one of the T-shirts with the orange leukemia ribbons on them, or something else orange, which is the charity color associated with leukemia, as pink is for breast cancer, and red for HIV/AIDS.
Jim Pierotti was at the middle school that day and was moved by the sea of orange he saw. “Hundreds of kids were wearing the T-shirts. The whole town, even the high school, wore orange.”
Christa Monahan, of course, took photos and posted them to Anthony’s blog so he could see it for himself. “We wanted a visible showing for Anthony and his brothers,” she says.
She also added a meal Train link on the blog, allowing people to sign up and drop off dinners for the family. Four nights a week, they have a meal waiting for them, a godsend because of the daily trips to the hospital and three boys at home.
For years, Jim Pierotti was very involved in town hockey, and served as president of the Hanover Youth Hockey Association.
Shortly after Anthony was hospitalized, the Hanover High School hockey captains and coaches came to tell him they were dedicating their games to him. And the team all wore “Anthony Strong” T-shirts under their uniforms; they became this year’s Eastern Massachusetts champions.
At the April 21 Boston Marathon, Anthony will have two charity runners running for him. Hanover resident Lauren Delaney is running for the nonprofit Cops for Kids with Cancer, and Kathy Slowey, who was stopped a mile from the finish line last year, is running for Children’s Hospital. The Pierotti family will be in a viewing stand in Brookline to cheer them on.
“Kathy will stop and pose for a picture with Anthony, if he can be there, God willing,” says his father.
Monahan is modest about the community effort that she started, but is proud of the town she calls home. “We’re a small town, and we are all so behind Anthony,” she says. “It’s amazing when you see people come together like that.”
Mark File, an art teacher at the elementary school, knows that Anthony has an interest and skill in art. He and Monahan took up a collection from the staff, and File put together an art kit for Anthony to take back and forth to the hospital.
“I think Anthony will be thrilled to have it,” says Monahan. “He’s in for a long road in coming back to full health, and we’re in it for him and his family.”Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.