A Portrait of Nick
by Dr. Michael Harris
I first met Nicholas when he was four years old. He was referred by his pediatrician to the Tomorrows Children's Institute (TCI) at Hackensack University Medical Center for treatment of T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia. From the day I met Nick a very special bond was formed which strengthened through the years until the day he died of a second cancer, Ewings sarcoma. This bond remains today, never to be broken.
Much can be said of Nicholas' determination, courage and intelligence. These were among his many outstanding characteristics. However, I wish to write about Nick and Me – patient and doctor. Nick was inquisitive, a raconteur, a poet, a lover of life, an athlete and compassionate. A routine physical exam, especially during the years when he was well, never was routine. Although Nick came to clinic for a checkup, I always believed he really came to check out the state of the TCI and its inhabitants. He would find out how I was feeling and what special events were looming on my horizon, any news from the other staff members, and finally he would manage to regale all of us with details of his life and general comments about people he was in contact with and the events of the day. All of this was done with his unique smile and humor that brought joy to all of us. I always looked forward to my "sessions with Nick." On the day he was to fly to France for his first semester of college Nick was diagnosed with a new cancer, Ewings sarcoma. Now the “sessions with Nick” took on a new focus for all of us, yet Nick remained as before, interested in family, friends and medical staff. His comments about life were at times insightful and at other times humorous, but always left us with something to think about.
And now Nick is not here and I miss him and my “sessions with Nick.” The question we all ask is what would Nick tell us to do during a "session with Nick." The answer is quite simple. He would instruct us to do exactly what Nancy and Ralph Currey and his myriad of friends are doing – help scientists understand the disease that robbed him of his life and once understood help doctors improve the cure rate for Ewings sarcoma patients. The NCF is dedicated to this effort and Nick, I can assure you, approves.
A Tribute to Nick
by Susan Cohen, Child Life Specialist
You sat with ease, finding your familiar space and you settled in. You spoke about the depth of life, its challenges, and the philosophies human beings should hold. You offered your insights as naturally as the sun rises and sets each day. You knew the essence of what life was about because you walked into the open doors of your heart. Nature, art, music, poetry, food, the senses and textures around you. They each penetrated your being, reminding you and those around you about the qualitative aspects of living.
When the clouds darkened the skies, you experienced fear and anger, but oh so briefly, returning to the vitality of your inner core. You longed and yearned to be whole, and even challenging obstacles did not prevent you from doing so. As you became sicker and your body weaker, you continued to participate in your care and to follow the lead of dear family, friends, and your team at the hospital. You made sure we understood your essence so that your human experience would never get lost. Before you had to yield to a respirator to help you breathe, you embraced your family, said that you loved each and every one of them, kissed each other and shared tears. Maybe then you knew that a closing was drawing near.
But before that moment, you asked about the meaningfulness of life once again. Your voice was weak and your words few so you had to write things down in shaky lettering. You pondered about how people are remembered. What if they're not famous? What if they are not popular in the media? What if the person wasn't notable in the public eye for some reason. It was then that we talked about love. We talked about the essence of what it is to love and be loved. To see and be seen. To cut through the superficial layers of human existence and to get to the heart of the matter. To experience the boundless unity of love and how it expands well beyond time and space.
These are your teachings my dear friend Nick. It is the essence of what pure love means that will hold your vitality within all those you touch eternally. Happy 21st Birthday. I will have a single malt scotch for you. I will pick a scotch that has depth to it, one that is not commonplace, something smooth. I won't drink too much, but just enough to toast you... just like you would do.
Though I am not physically with you, know that the essence of love that you knew and taught overrides all. For this is what you taught, over and over and over again. The imprint of who you are, the essence of your being, will live in my heart forever. I promise.