When most people think of teams, games or sports come to mind. But in Livingston, “Team Anthony” is a group of children, teachers and adults rallying behind Anthony Vallejo, 12, who is battling acute lymphocytic leukemia.
Anthony, a sixth-grader from Mount Pleasant Middle School, was diagnosed with leukemia in December and he has been going back and forth to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center ever since then, his mother, Norma Rubio, said.
The chemotherapy treatments and hospital stays have been difficult for Anthony and stressful for the rest of the family, Rubio said. Fortunately, Rubio said her son gets a lot of help from the Livingston community.
Five teachers – Susie Ferguson, Julie Nersesian, Ruth Morrison, Katy Quillen and Lydia Austin – visit Anthony at home to continue his schooling and help him keep up academically, Rubio said.
Children have been coming to visit Anthony at home on weekdays and weekends to cheer him up and keep him company. The students have sent him care packages, get-well cards, and, during Valentine’s Day, the school sent over 600 hand-made cards, Rubio said. Parents and other residents have been dropping off meals to their home.
“They put a smile on his face and distract him from his sickness, which is something he needs right now,” Rubio said. “The kids have been amazing, the mother have called and said they don’t’ want to impose or be rude.… If anything, people have to know the school has done so much for my son, the teachers, the parents, the children. It’s amazing.”
The Livingston residents and Mount Pleasant Middle School staff have also organized fundraisers to help Anthony and his family.
“Team Anthony” is participating in The Valerie Fund Walk and JAG Physical Therapy 5K Run on June 9. The walk, which is taking place in Verona Park, helps support children with cancer and blood disorders.
Mount Pleasant Middle School teachers Mitchell Wasserman and Alexsandr Sadiwnyk will ride their bikes for one-hundred miles on Long Beach Island to raise money and help support the Vallejo family. The ride will take place on Tuesday with a rain date of June 18.
And on Wednesday, the middle school is having a student dance party to help raise funds to support the Vallejo family. The middle school staff has been selling t-shirts as well.
Other events have been held as well.
Back on March 14, also known as Pi Day, a group of Mount Pleasant Middle School students threw whipped cream and pudding pies at teachers as a fundraiser, math teacher Susie Ferguson said. The pie toss raised about $300 and the funds were used by a core group of students to make care packages and buy small presents for Anthony, she said.
Ferguson also said a small core group of students also meet every Thursday to plan ways to cheer up Anthony and they do activities such as making art projects, chatting on Skype.
On a personal note, Ferguson praised Anthony’s spirit and his desire to learn.
“He works very hard,” she said. “He’s a bright boy. Considering how tired he seems, he tries to stay upbeat and (he) has a good work ethic when I work with him.”
Some students said they also enjoy visiting their friend, Anthony, and supporting him on a regular basis.
Sixth-graders Benjamin Asher and Jonathan Altman visit Anthony every week. The sixth-graders said they miss seeing Anthony in school, and when they are together they do fun activities, such as play video games, watch TV or movies or play with his dog.
The hardest part is they want to make cancer a little easier for Anthony, Benjamin said, and they know it’s not easy.
“I just think the main thing (is) I want him to know he’s not alone going through this,” Benjamin said. “It’s going to be our fight, too. Me, myself, and the rest of his friends want him t know that we’re going to be there for him and always will be there for him for support.”
Jonathan said he enjoys the visits and he feels they are important.
“In his situation, all I care about is making him happy,” Jonathan said. He added that he hopes Anthony will recover soon and return to school.
Rubio said the overwhelming support has been wonderful for her family.
“The school and the teachers and the children get that credit,” Rubio said. “We couldn’t survive this without their help. This sickness can bring you down and destroy you. The teachers, the students, they said ‘hang in there. Is there anything else we can do for you?’ They have been amazing.”
Maria Vazquez, Anthony’s aunt, agreed.
Vazquez said her nephew - who is normally very funny and loves monster stories and basketball - had become sad after he was diagnosed with the disease.
Vazquez, who lives in West Windsor and visits once a week, said she’s noticed that the visits from the local children have helped her nephew, her brother and her sister-in-law get through this difficult time.
“Everyone has been so responsive and so helpful,” Vasquez said. “It’s an out pour of love and well-meaning for a family that is going through such a hard time. My heart goes out to them.”