Josephine Pedone has turned the pain of losing her son, Nicholas, into a way to help other young patients cope with cancer treatment at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.
Nicholas, who was 7, died from neuroblastoma, a cancer affecting developing cells that occurs most often in young children. Before and throughout his treatment, his mother says, his beaming smile belied his discomfort. After he passed in 2013, his parents, family and friends looked for a way to help young patients. Their idea was smilePak, a program to provide care packages containing a teddy bear, blanket and backpack for youngsters heading into hospital stays.
The Pedones’ next project, HOP4Kids, benefitting children fighting cancer, led them to Cohen Children’s and the exploration of what would benefit children the most. That desire crystalized as a playroom called Nicky’s Nest.
"Fight Hard, Smile Big"
The theme of Nicky’s Nest is “Fight Hard, Smile Big” — a motto the Pedones invoked during Nicholas’ treatments, and one they hope inspires patients to never give up. “It’s what we used to say when he was down,” Josephine says. “When he smiled, everyone — doctors, nurses, everyone else — smiled.”
The playroom is a haven for youngsters, with children’s toys, arts-and-crafts tables, a fish tank and walls painted with clouds shaped like animals and numbers.
It also has personal touches of Nicholas and his family. The shapes on the wall include the numbers eight and 30, a reference to Nicholas’s birth date, and the moon and stars. “I write letters to heaven on Facebook, when I feel the need to talk to Nicholas, and I always address it ‘to the moon and stars’ and sign it Mommy,” Josephine says.
Josephine and Nicholas’ father, also named Nick, visited the playroom and spent time with a little girl named Violet. They played games together and watched her dance.
“It was so heartwarming to see the smile on her face and see her enjoying the playroom,” Josephine says.
Helping kids feel like kids again
Cynthia Rodriguez, director of Child Life at Cohen Children’s, says Nicky’s Nest is a safe space, “where a child can begin to feel like a child again, and not a patient. Children play together, adding a sense of camaraderie, and socialize with other children going through similar experiences.”
Josephine says she looks forward to more collaborations. “Cohen Children’s is a great hospital, a great organization. … We hope to sit down with them again and see what else might be on their wish list and possibly fund another project,” she says.
“[Nicholas’] spirit lives through the foundation, and his smile lives on through the playroom. I lost my son, my only son, but I feel like I have so many children. In Nicholas’ memory, we are helping others.”