The Colleluori family of Ridley Township continued a 10-year tradition this Thanksgiving by preparing and helping to serve the traditional holiday feast to patients receiving inpatient care at the Abramson Cancer Center of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), and their families.
The tradition honors the memory of 21 year-old Nicholas Colleluori, who died of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma just two days after his family shared their last Thanksgiving with him at his bedside at HUP. Nick’s death sparked formation of the HEADstrong Foundation that provides direct financial assistance to families with a member undergoing cancer treatment, including housing when patients and families travel a long distance for treatment.
In the 10 years since Nick first proposed a foundation before his death, $9 million has been raised.
“Thanksgiving was our Nick’s favorite holiday,” said Michael Colleluori, foundation vice-president and Nick’s brother. “Serving and sharing the feast has been a privilege that we, as a family and organization, are honored to provide.”
Michael said it is very encouraging for patients to see cancer survivors working with the Colleluori family that also includes dad, Pat, and sons, Mike, Daniel and Pat, Jr.
“Because if there is anything that we can share with them during Thanksgiving, it is that they are not alone and there is hope,” Michael added.
A food distribution center provided turkeys and all the trimmings for 500 patients and family members. HEADstrong’s core volunteers transformed conference space on each floor of the hospital to seasonally-themed dining rooms equipped with entertainment units, designed by Nick himself, to improve inpatient accommodations on the floors so families can enjoy Thanksgiving football games.
Throughout the day, Cheryl Colleluori, HEADstrong’s president and Nick’s mom, accompanied by their advocacy team of survivors once treated at HUP, visit each floor to deliver comfort kits and personally meet with every patient and their family members.
“Spending holidays in the hospital can be incredibly hard and depressing for patients,” said Cheryl. “As a ‘family first’ organization that exists to provide normalcy to families living with cancer, we embrace the importance of the family support network and the role that it plays on a patient’s wellbeing. Our hope is for our ‘heroes’ to find strength and inspiration in being around the ones they love and are able to temporarily escape from the realities of being inpatient for treatment. We have walked in the shoes of every patient and family spending the holiday on these floors and we want them to know that they are not alone.”
Nick Colleluori was a standout lacrosse player while a student at Ridley High School. He was attending Hofstra University in New York at the time of his death.