On February 5, 1981, Emmanuel Vizzoni was diagnosed with Burkett’s lymphoma just weeks after his seventh birthday. Over the next two months, his parents, Joseph and Susan Vizzoni, alternated shifts at the hospital while their son endured grueling medical treatments. Sadly, on April 5 of that year, the lymphoma claimed Manny’s life, leaving his family to pick up the pieces.
Coping with their grief and explaining to their younger daughter why her brother had simply “disappeared” proved to be incredibly difficult for the Vizzoni family. At that time, medical treatments for pediatric cancers were developing rapidly; however there were large gaps in the emotional, spiritual, and financial support available for families. Susan reflects, “Joe and I came to understand—because we were running back and forth to the hospital while family members helped care for our daughter—that families with other circumstances must have an incredibly difficult time managing this.
We realized that the best thing we could do to cope with our own loss was to start helping others in this situation.”
In 1983, after two years of kitchen-table talks and networking, the Vizzonis established the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation (ECF) in memory of their son. At that time, the purpose of ECF was to fill in gaps that medical insurance did not cover, to provide assistance in the home, and to give spiritual support and guidance to families struggling to deal with their child’s diagnosis. Joseph and Susan felt that it was important to help all members of the family, not just the child with cancer.
At first, families were hesitant to accept any support from the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation. Joseph and Susan recall talking to one mother who said, “We’re having enough trouble getting food on the table. We don’t have time to sit down with a counselor.” In response, an ECF volunteer delivered a new microwave to the family’s door. Overwhelmed that an organization was willing and able to make a huge difference with a small gesture, this family became one of ECF’s first.
Even in the beginning, Caseworkers would visit a new family’s home to assess their situation. Was the family having trouble getting to and from the hospital? Were they having trouble getting meals on the table? Were they able to keep on top of the surmounting medical bills? Through the Caseworkers’ guidance, ECF was able to meet some of the families’ needs, thus helping to improve their overall quality of life.
Since those early days, ECF has helped over 2000 families in New Jersey manage their struggle with pediatric cancer. ECF recognizes that each family has a different experience and different needs. Consequently, ECF staff, Caseworkers, and volunteers have dedicated themselves over the past decades to helping families address these needs as they arise. ECF continues to provide a comprehensive package of support at no cost and in the comfort of the family’s home. Services are coordinated by professional Caseworkers, who work with the children, siblings, and caretakers to help preserve their quality of life as they grapple with the challenges of pediatric cancer.
Meet Some Of Our Kids
Cairo was diagnosed with cancer at 4 months old, right in the middle of the pandemic. His parents had noticed a bump on his stomach and his rib cage began protruding. Their pediatrician dismissed their concerns, but they sought a second opinion. As soon as that doctor lifted Cairo’s shirt, he knew something was wrong....